Throughout the United Kingdom, NHS ambulance waiting times have tremendously increased, with non-urgent cases potentially taking up to 3 hours to get an ambulance response. This is due to a number of diverse factors, such as the after-effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Virtual wards are a possible answer to this and allow staff to treat patients in the comfort of their homes with the help of many technological innovations, such as remote monitoring. In this article, we look at how virtual wards can mitigate the effects of long ambulance waiting times for patients as well as the technology that facilitates this.

Virtual wards reduce ambulance use altogether

Virtual wards are a way for local healthcare professionals across multidisciplinary teams to treat patients who require non-urgent intervention. As a result, they might easily serve as an alternative to traditional ambulance care, especially for people who would not need to go into hospital. Virtual wards work alongside both 111 and 999 services to identify members of the local community who require a visit from a medical professional – this allows them to offer hospital-level care. In areas where virtual wards have been introduced, there has been a roughly 16% reduction in patients aged over 75 going to hospital.

If virtual wards continue to develop across the country, this could lead to significantly less strain on ambulance services, letting them prioritise patients, which may need more urgent attention. The community teams aim to arrive within 2 hours, and can get in contact with a consultant in real-time if there are any specific issues which they aren’t able to address. According to NHS data, virtual ward teams successfully visited over 80% of these patients within 2 hours. This means the virtual ward approach usually provides a notably faster response than ambulances in a non-urgent situation.

Virtual wards free up hospital space

A significant contributor towards long ambulance waiting times is the handover process at the hospital. Strains on NHS services have limited the number of available beds – and mean patients often have to wait longer once they arrive. Ambulances are currently waiting with patients for much longer than they were in 2019, impacting how many additional patients the ambulance can visit over the course of that day. With virtual wards, patients avoid the hospital and are able to recover at home; the team is even able to provide ‘hospital at home’ beds to facilitate a patient’s long-term recovery.

This effectively outsources a significant amount of patients to local teams who have the resources and abilities to offer equivalent care. With more space available in the hospitals they would otherwise attend (and possibly stay in for several days), ambulances can more readily hand patients over and then attend their next call much faster. Adequate resources are vital for a virtual ward team to provide high-quality healthcare on par with NHS hospitals. To help with this, the NHS trusts use inventory management solutions while Community Services Providers use Community solutions to make sure virtual ward teams are fully equipped for serious situations.

Virtual wards use hospital-grade technology

Virtual wards make use of standard medical equipment fitting a wide spectrum of duties, including monitoring technology that helps them see if something is amiss with a patient. For example, the virtual ward team could provide a pulse oximeter to patients with breathing problems. This connects to an app which informs the ward team if their metrics fall below a minimum value. Robust inventory management solutions are vital for acquiring the right equipment and devices. An NHS procurement official is responsible for ensuring the team has enough of every item and can deliver hospital-level care to patient homes.

Remote monitoring solutions are particularly useful and cost-effective – this again frees hospital beds, allowing the NHS to see more patients overall. On top of this, Elcom’s Community and ScanOR inventory management solutions help trusts find the necessary technology and keep track of goods whenever they need to replenish them. With these trusts also wishing to speed up discharges and increase the prevalence of community care, it’s important that Community Equipment Leading Providers acquire, and recycle, enough stock to facilitate this. This lets the NHS achieve key objectives by aligning their standards while reducing human error and other variances.

Virtual wards are an incredible step forward for the NHS and are becoming more common in the UK due to the ways they reduce pressures upon the service. A Community Equipment Systems solution could guarantee your wards only use equipment from and maintained in the community, also simplifying the prescription process via catalogue-based browsing. Inventory management systems similarly provide robust information such as digital paper trails to follow products through every stage and even identify cost-cutting opportunities. By integrating these solutions into your trust’s virtual ward, you can improve their efficiency and bring a significant long-term reduction to ambulance waiting times.


  • Carolina Duran

    Carolina Duran, VP of Marketing at ELCOM, joined ELCOM in May 2016 to lead the company's marketing team and implement a robust and efficient strategy to secure brand positioning and growth in the UK and internationally. ELCOM is a global Supply Chain Technology Provider which praised itself for making procurement smarter, more connected, and transparent.

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