Patients with severe lung conditions can have expert care from their own home instead of hospital thanks to an investment in new technology.

Patients who have had a flare up of a lung condition such as COPD or a deterioration in any respiratory illness are usually admitted to hospital for specialist care. They stay in hospital for a number of days before being well enough to be discharged home. New technology now enables the patient’s own home to become a ‘virtual ward’.

The technology is sticky pad that is put onto the chest which measures heart rate and temperature. There is also a small device that is put onto the finger to measure oxygen levels as well as a blood pressure monitor. All the data is captured via blue tooth on a mobile phone that the patient has around their neck. The data is then live streamed to the virtual ward team who monitor it back at base. Any alerts are responded to by the Community nursing teams and Cumbria Health on Call (CHoC) out of hours.  The phone can also be used for the patient to call the team or for the team to call the patient.

It mean patients at North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust (NCIC) can be offered an alternative to hospital admission by providing care, treatment and monitoring in their own home. Research has shown that keeping people in their familiar home surroundings with care and support from healthcare teams is likely to support recovery and reduce hospital acquired risks (such as infection, falls, deconditioning) associated with in-hospital stays. Transferring patients onto a virtual ward may also help make more beds available for those patients who do need acute clinical care delivered in a hospital setting.

One of the first patients to receive care in this way was Alan Shepherd from Brampton near Carlisle.Alan Shepherd.jpg He said:

“I can’t believe how good it was.  When I was told that I could be transferred home and monitored from there, I was a little nervous. I didn’t understand how they could possibly monitor me but they definitely did. Every morning they called me and explained what had been happening through the night with all my measurements and they called in the afternoon or later in the evening too. I was very reassured.”

Alan added: 

“Being in hospital for me was a very harrowing experience. I’ve worked for the NHS for 19 years heading up the estates department and never had a day off regarding sickness. To be in hospital sick was really awful so when I was offered to be monitored at home I thought it was marvellous.  I can’t believe that the care I had at home was any different to being in hospital. I honestly felt I was being cared for. They knew exactly what was happening because every little change in my rehabilitation that I was experiencing was explained by them in detail during each phone call. 

“After a week I did have to come back into hospital but the team still kept in touch with me. I think the staff on the virtual wards and on the actual wards are superb. In hospital to see the way they cared and had time for people was eye opening. They are extremely nice people.”

Maria Parsonage, Respiratory Consultant Nurse and Virtual Ward Clinical Lead at NCIC explains: 

“This is a fantastic development not just because it can help free up hospital beds for people who need them the most. It can also lead to a speedier recovery for patients when cared for in more familiar surroundings with family and caregivers around them, while knowing that their needs are being supported by a team of healthcare workers.”

Patients are provided with an individual treatment plan with clear information on what to do if they are feeling unwell or in an emergency. There is also be the option for virtual ward patients to be ‘transferred back to hospital’ if they fail to respond to their treatment or deteriorate at home. Generally patients will be cared for on the virtual ward for around 7-14 days before they are either discharged or re-admitted.

Maria added: 

“We are starting by our respiratory teams identifying suitable respiratory inpatients to have their care delivered in a virtual ward and the North Cumbria Home Oxygen Service (NCHOS) and virtual ward community nursing team carefully monitor the patients and deliver their care at home."

The Trust is rolling out the virtual wards in phases, starting with small numbers of respiratory patients then moving to frailty and cardiology pathways at a later date. The Trust has supported 6 patients so far to receive their care for between 7 and 14 days, through the virtual ward technology.

News tags