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NHS England plans to create 3,000 additional ‘virtual ward beds’ this year

A new procurement framework will help health service organisations purchase more remote monitoring technology.

By Sophia Waterfield

NHS England is looking to free up more beds and speed up patient discharge using “virtual wards” with the agreement of its second iteration of the Technology Enabled Care Services framework agreement. The health service says that it will enable Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) to procure remote patient monitoring solutions to help patients get treatment at home.

NHS England has created a procurement framework to create an additional 3,000 virtual ward beds by Winter 2023. (Photo by Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock)

According to NHS Shared Business Services (SBS), the Technology Enabled Care Services 2 framework will help health52 and social care services respond to the need to free up beds, reduce the backlog of appointments and speed up patient discharge. It covers procurement for remote clinical monitoring, alarm receiving centre platforms, digital alarm services, intelligent activity monitoring, patient-controlled personalised healthcare records and combined solutions. 

Currently, 19 out of 20 hospital beds are occupied, with 14,000 taken by someone who is clinically ready to leave, but unable to be discharged. This is because the appropriate care setting, such as residential homes, or social care packages are unavailable.

To combat this, NHS England Transformation Directorate along with local authorities, national technology-enabled care (TEC) policymakers like TEC Cymru and other industry bodies have worked together to create a revised £150m framework. NHS England says it wants 76% of patients admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours by 2024.  

Virtual ward beds can help patients remain at home to receive diagnosis and treatment

As part of the framework, NHS England5 has enabled the procurement of solutions to support virtual wards, allowing patients to have hospital-level care at home. GP Practices, hospitals, health centres and emergency services can use the framework to access the technology in remote-patient care that meets national clinical safety standards. Other public sector services such as housing, local authorities and ICSs will also be able to use the framework. 

Instead of patients being admitted to the hospital, virtual wards allow patients to remain at home by combining remote monitoring to facilitate diagnostics and treatment. Patients could also be allowed to leave the hospital sooner, without putting their safety at risk. 

To accomplish this, NHS England says it plans to scale-up capacity from 7,000 virtual ward beds to 10,000 in autumn 2023. Adam Nickerson, head of category, digital and IT procurement frameworks at NHS SBS, said ICSs would be expected to deliver 40 to 50 virtual ward beds per 100,000 people by December 2023. 

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“The framework agreement enables ICSs and provider collaboratives – from housing authorities to local authorities – to strategically source and quickly buy a mixture of goods be it a single, bundled or a fully managed service, which works across a region,” Nickerson said. “It means they can better plan and deliver joined-up services and improve the health of the population across their regional wing of care.” 

The framework started running on 9 January 2023 and will last until 9 July 2024. There will be an option to extend until 2027. 

Read more: Claims leaked documents show ‘NHS data sharing with Palantir’

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