New West Essex Virtual Hospital Service
A new virtual hospital service has launched in west Essex for adults over the age of 18 years, giving them more choice around where they can receive care.
The service launched in early December 2022 and allows patients with specific conditions to be cared for at their usual place of residence, including care homes.
Vanessa Wakefield, deputy director of the West Essex Care Coordination Centre, which manages referrals into the virtual hospital and organises care for patients, said: “The virtual hospital is a safe, alternative way of allowing patients with specific conditions to receive the same treatment they would otherwise receive in hospital.
“It’s just like being on a ward but they’re in the comfort of their own home and being monitored from a distance, with face-to-face care as needed.
“Our aim is to help people stay well at home so they do not need to go into hospital in the first place, help them stay independent and to recover faster.
“We know many people prefer to be cared for at home if possible, so this enables them to be in familiar surroundings and with their family, with the reassurance of knowing they will be monitored closely and receive tailored support to help their recovery.
“If there is any change in their health, we will talk to them about what medication or further care they need and put any extra support in place.
“Patients who have used our service have told us they appreciate the support and care they receive, and being given the choice to recover at home.”
Personalised care and close monitoring
Patients receive a mixture of face-to-face care and remote monitoring by a team including consultants, advanced clinical practitioners, nurses, therapists and pharmacists.
They are also supported by other specialist teams and social care, depending on their individual needs.
Patients are monitored and reviewed every day by a multi-disciplinary team of health and social care professionals.
The number of face to face visits and telephone calls patients receive will vary depending on their specific needs, and they are asked to regularly send in readings for their blood pressure, oxygen levels, temperature and weight as necessary.
Patients can be admitted to the West Essex Virtual Hospital Service for up to two weeks but will be referred for further care if their needs change at any point during that time, which could include being referred to hospital.
They will also be referred for further care as needed once they leave the care of the virtual hospital team.
While being cared for as part of the virtual hospital service, patients can receive a wide range of personalised care depending on their individual needs. This can include administration of medications, face to face nursing and therapy care, urgent assessments, end of life care, oxygen therapy, and blood tests.
If the individual has identified care needs, support can be deployed quickly through the close working relationship the service has with adult social care.
People will only be referred to the virtual hospital service if their condition and individual circumstances mean it is a suitable option for them.
Patients with the following conditions can be referred into the virtual hospital service:
- Frailty Syndromes – Patients aged over 65 with a Frailty Index Score (FIS) of 5 or above ( FIS is a validated assessment tool used to ascertain level of frailty)
- Breathing conditions such as acute respiratory infections, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and pneumonia
- Heart failure symptoms, breathlessness, fluid retention
- Infectious conditions requiring antibiotics
All patients are given easy to use remote monitoring equipment and there is full support in place to help them if they have any questions or concerns about using it.
The kit includes a mobile phone or tablet for them to use to submit their health readings and send instant messages to the Care Coordination Centre, which picks them up immediately and will respond.
Vanessa said: “We speak to our patients every day but the instant messaging system gives them another way of getting in touch with us outside of those conversations if they need help or have a question. We will then arrange a call or visit as needed.”
“I think it’s amazing”
Patient Joyce Kirstein, 79, from Buckhurst Hill, had received hospital treatment for pneumonia and partial kidney failure. She was referred to the virtual hospital service by her GP after being discharged.
Joyce and her niece Vikki Bromley were pleased with the fast response they received from the team. She received her initial appointment and remote monitoring equipment on the same day.
And when she needed a prescription on a Sunday, Vikki was able to phone an Advanced Clinical Practitioner to get Joyce’s medication within two hours.
They also found the blood pressure and oximeter equipment easy to use, despite Joyce’s initial concerns she wouldn’t know what to do.
Joyce, who prefers being at home than in hospital, said: “I think it’s amazing. The slightest change in the figures and I get a phone call asking ‘are you alright?’
“I was so nervous of it in the beginning. When the equipment came and it was in the box I felt overwhelmed. I just do it automatically now, I don’t think about it.”
Joyce’s health is improving and she has been able to stay independent at home, with support from Vikki.
She said: “I started off unable to walk from my home to the road and Vikki was taking me in a wheelchair. Now I’ve started walking again.”
Vikki added: “She felt very safe knowing there was always someone she could talk to if there was any concerns.”
The virtual hospital service is part of wider work by health and social care organisations within the West Essex Health and Care Partnership to ensure people in west Essex receive the most effective health and social care in the best setting.