NHS virtual ward expansion will see thousands of children treated at home

Tens of thousands of children will be able to receive hospital-level care at home thanks to an expansion of virtual wards, chief executive Amanda Pritchard will announce on the 75th anniversary of the NHS.

The hospital at home service – already the largest of its kind in the world – will expand to cover children in every region of England from this month after successfully treating more than 6,400 children over the last year.

NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard said the world-leading NHS virtual wards programme has “provided peace of mind” to parents who have used them during trials, including in Blackpool, Dudley and Dorset.

The services will treat a range of conditions like respiratory illness, such as asthma, and heart conditions, allowing kids to get the care they need from the comfort of their homes.

Virtual wards allow patients to get hospital-level care at home safely and in familiar surroundings, helping speed up their recovery while freeing up hospital beds for patients that need them most and reducing the burden of travel for families.

It comes as more than 160,000 adult patients have been successfully treated on virtual wards including hospital-at-home services since April last year.

As it marks 75 years since its foundation today, the NHS continues to show it is a world-leader when it comes to cutting-edge innovation and using the latest technology to treat patients.

The rollout to children and young people will come as part of the NHS plan to create an extra 10,000 virtual ward beds by winter, meaning more patients can be treated safely from home, also relieving pressure on hospital beds.

In 1948, healthcare in England was revolutionised with the introduction of the National Health Service, free at the point of delivery, and with district nurses and midwives going from door to door to provide care in their heart of their communities and their patients’ homes.

Today, the NHS is in the midst of another revolution, embracing advances in technology and innovation with virtual wards, providing around the clock, quality care to patients in their own homes, where patients would rather be.

NHS Chief Executive Amanda Pritchard said: “As the NHS celebrates its 75th anniversary today, it is amazing to see how services have changed since our foundation. Virtual wards are already providing excellent care to families when their children are sick, and this expansion will enable thousands more to receive high quality care from home.

“Being treated at home can have a hugely positive impact on patients – it means they receive hospital-level care, but it also means they are not separated from their families – providing peace of mind for loved ones.

“As we look to the next 75 years of the NHS, we will continue to embrace the latest technologies and innovations to meet the changing needs of patients while ensuring that care is as convenient as possible.”

NHS National Clinical Director for Children and Young People Professor Simon Kenny said: “The introduction of paediatric virtual wards means children can receive clinical care from home, surrounded by family and an environment they and their parents would rather they be – with nurses and doctors just a call away.

“More than 6,400 children have already been treated on a virtual ward, which also means they spend less time in hospital and that paediatric beds are there for the children that need them most, when they need them.”

Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said: “Virtual wards are an important part of our plan to improve access to NHS urgent and emergency care services, and now they will be expanded to tens of thousands of children across the country.

“That will allow them to be treated from the comfort of their own home, freeing up hospital beds and cutting waiting times, which is one of the government’s five priorities.

“As we celebrate the achievements of the NHS over the last 75 years and look ahead to the future, my priority is that we continue to invest in the latest technology and innovations to deliver the best care for patients.”

The success of virtual wards in treating adults at home and in particular those who are elderly or frail has been clear. People recover much quicker at home and in familiar surroundings where they would prefer to be.

As well as expanding the use of hospital at home or virtual wards to children, the NHS is committed to expanding their use to adult patients with heart or lung conditions.

People on a virtual ward are cared for by a multi-skilled team who can provide a range of tests and treatments, including blood tests, prescribing medication or administering fluids through an intravenous drip.

Patients are reviewed daily by the clinical team and the ‘ward round’ may involve a home visit or take place through video technology. Many virtual wards use technology like apps, wearables and other medical devices enabling clinical staff to easily check in and monitor their recovery.

NHS England’s Urgent and Emergency Care Recovery Plan set out guidance to support systems implement new models of virtual wards, in more clinical areas including heart failure and paediatrics, with the guidelines to be put in place to allow systems to scale up ahead of winter.

Case studies


In Blackpool, almost 200 children have been treated on a paediatric virtual ward, including 21-month-old Hope Ezard, who was born prematurely at just 29-weeks and has a rare neurodevelopmental disorder, GNB5, as well as chronic lung disease and feeding issues.

Hope has been in and out of hospital for most of her life to be treated for recurring respiratory infections, to receive high-pressure oxygen and antibiotics, and often because she is too unwell to be at home with parents, Sarah, 39, and Carsten, 40, and her four siblings.

The introduction of the paediatric virtual ward at Blackpool Teaching Hospitals has meant that Hope can now be moved home sooner, and receive the care she needs while surrounded by her family and all the things she loves.

Hope’s mother, Sarah said: “Hope has a high care demand, but being able to receive some of that care at home is so beneficial to Hope, and our other children.

“We know that in general, Hope doesn’t sleep very well when she’s in hospital and is more vulnerable to hospital infections, so there is peace of mind when she’s being cared for at home, on the virtual ward, she’s less likely to pick up anything that might make her more poorly, and she’s relaxed and comfortable in her own bed. And the fact that the brilliant community nurses are just a phone call away reduces any anxieties that we might have had.

“For us, it’s amazing that we can have her at home with us as much as we do, and I would encourage other parents and families to talk to their doctors and nurses about paediatric virtual wards in their area.”


In the South West, University Hospitals Dorset’s (UHD) virtual ward pilot, ‘Child Health @Home’, is already helping families.

Claire Morgan’s son was on antibiotics that would have historically required a hospital stay.

Claire said: “The virtual ward was amazing for my son. It meant he could be discharged home where he was much more comfortable without the need to keep going back to the hospital for his antibiotics. We are very grateful for this brilliant project.”


At The Dudley Group NHS Foundation Trust, local mum, Anum Shazady, praised the virtual ward for keeping her son out of hospital, with twice daily calls from NHS staff.

Anum said: “Now my son is on the virtual ward I can record his observations as many times as I want throughout the day, recording them onto the virtual ward pad and a member of staff calls me twice daily which reassures me that he is safe in our home environment. The new virtual ward is great for me and my family as it stops my son staying in hospital longer than he needs.”