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Plans for GPs to support 10,000 ‘virtual ward’ beds ‘will put patient safety at risk’

Plans for GPs to support 10,000 ‘virtual ward’ beds ‘will put patient safety at risk’

NHS England has set out plans for 10,000 ‘virtual ward’ beds that will require support from GPs in a move that the BMA warns will pile more pressure on primary care.

As part of the Government’s emergency care plan, NHS England said 7,000 virtual ward beds are already in place the community, with plans for a further 3,000 beds, treating up to 50,000 patients a month in a bid to reduce secondary care waiting lists.

It also laid out plans for a further roll out of virtual wards for children and young people with expanded provision across all regions by September.

Last week, following the publication of the emergency care plan, NHS England published new guidance on virtual wards, which it said ‘support patients who would otherwise be in hospital to receive the acute care, monitoring and treatment they need in their own home’.

The guidance said: ‘A virtual ward should be clinically led by a named registered consultant practitioner, ie doctor, nurse, AHP or GP with knowledge and capabilities in the relevant specialty or model of care (or access to specialist medical advice).’

It added: ‘ICSs must ensure that there are clear, formalised pathways in place to support early recognition of deteriorating symptoms and out-of-hours support to manage deterioration, enabling capacity in existing out-of-hours services, including community night nursing team services or GP out-of-hours service where appropriate.’

But Dr Kieran Sharrock, acting chair of GPC England at the BMA, said that having virtual wards to relieve pressures on hospitals relies on there being extra capacity elsewhere in the system, of which there is none.

He told Pulse: ‘Doctors want to innovate, and see the potential benefits that could come with virtual wards, but we can’t do that if the Government hasn’t go the basics right: bolstering the workforce.

‘Virtual wards may solve the pressures problem in hospitals, but instead move them to another, equally-stretched part of the health service.’

Dr Sharrock said patients on virtual wards ‘will still need to be regularly monitored and kept safe’, adding: ‘Expecting GPs and their teams to support virtual wards without addressing the worsening workforce crisis will only drive up waiting times in general practice, and ultimately put patient safety at risk.’

Dr Adrian Hayter, a GP in Egham and National Clinical Director for Older People and Integrated Person Centred Care at NHS England, said: ‘We need joined-up care in and around people’s homes, especially for older people living with frailty, or with long-term conditions, so that they only go to hospital when necessary and receive a better experience of care when they leave.’

At the end of last month, after the Government’s announcement, the BMA warned the urgent care plan is likely to push workload onto already-overworked GPs and their teams and thereby jeopardising patient safety.

The Government said the measures will be ‘aligned with priorities for primary care,’ including the forthcoming GP access recovery plan and the implementation of the Fuller stocktake report.



Please note, only GPs are permitted to add comments to articles

Michael Mullineux 14 February, 2023 10:59 am

Laudable objectives Dr Hayter, but as usual from NHSE, so far removed from the workforce reality in General Practice as to be in a parrallel universe. I am heartily sick of ‘new initiatives’ in General Practice that persist in ignoring the reality of our shrinking workforce and ever expanding workload and really wish they would just stop. Please.

Mr Marvellous 14 February, 2023 11:37 am

Maybe these extra Virtual beds should be attended to by Virtual GPs? These would seem apt, because there are Virtually no GPs left.

Iain Chalmers 14 February, 2023 11:51 am

Virtually laughed my head off😂😂😂

Slobber Dog 14 February, 2023 5:21 pm

Extraordinary aspirations!
What could go wrong?

Cameron Wilson 14 February, 2023 6:16 pm

Don’t think either patient safety or a deficit in capacity to deliver is high on either HMG, and by default,NHSE agenda !
How any self respecting doctor can work for NHSE beats me.

Andrew F 14 February, 2023 9:15 pm

Personally I find it is most efficient to have people doing the jobs they are trained and equipped to do.

In emergencies we cross cover and drop routine work, but this is not sustainable beyond the emergency and leaves loads of clearing-up. We are out of the COVID emergency and we all need to get back to our proper roles.

These are stupid ideas from people who have failed to realise that they are no smarter than the people at the front line actually doing the job.

David Jarvis 15 February, 2023 9:15 am

NHS management is the BCD’s trying to tell the AAAA’s how they should do their job. Only now does that fact that virtual wards = dump in the community come out but we knew all along. These patients will be back clogging up your corridors in a blink because the virtual ward (community) couldn’t manage them because that is how they ended up in your corridor in the first place.

David Church 15 February, 2023 12:47 pm

It might be a useful idea while there is a temporary shortage of secondary care beds, but it would need a lot of consideration of how it would work, and then a properly assessed practical pilot in a small area to ensure all loose ends are tied up before having a larger pilot trial to see how well it works, properly assessed for benefits and adverse side effects, as well as effects on other services.
I wonder if anyone will actually do that before closing more hospitals and making situation worse in the community??

James Cuthbertson 15 February, 2023 4:38 pm

All depends what this is used for? I saw a patient on Friday who needed urgent same day assessment. They have been in now for 4 days but I doubt at any stage they’ve needed any nursing or help with ADL’s- they would be a candidate for a virtual ward.

But I suspect it will me used to dump elderly care patients out to be supervised in the community…

Decorum Est 15 February, 2023 10:37 pm

‘How any self respecting doctor can work for NHSE beats me.’

Beats me as well!

Maybe, I need leather patches on the elbows of my Cardie and ‘Superman Powers’.
(suspect I might appear a bit incongruous/ridiculous)?

Nicola Williams 16 February, 2023 12:14 pm

maybe if they hadn’t spent the last few years closing all the community hospitals there would be community beds available …….

Michael Green 20 February, 2023 10:04 am

Computer says noooo.

Dumping granny on GP will be dealt with swift referral back to medics to “kindly” see and do the needful.

No beds for actual sick people? Not my problem. Write to your MP. Next!