COVID virtual wards

COVID virtual wards are being used as part of the NHS response to COVID-19. Virtual wards support safe and earlier discharge of coronavirus patients from hospitals. When moving from hospital to a virtual ward people are given a pulse oximeter and supporting information to monitor their oxygen levels at home.

How does a virtual ward differ from the Oximetry @home service?

Unlike COVID Oximetry @home services, virtual wards are normally operated by a hospital. Virtual wards are for people being discharged from hospital who have coronavirus but with an improving condition. Considerations may also be given to people seen by ambulance clinicians where emergency admission is not warranted, but urgent oximetry follow-up is required.

People on a virtual ward may require a greater level of clinical support than offered through COVID Oximetry @home services.

COVID Oximetry@home COVID virtual ward
WHERE Primary care supervised Hospital supervised
WHO Lower acuity/complexity Higher acuity/complexity
WHEN Community diagnosed patients Emergency hospital patients
AIMS Safe admission avoidance and self escalation Early supported hospital discharge
safe admission avoidance
HOW Patient self monitoring/escalation

Earlier deterioration presentation

Monitored service

Reliable deterioration recognition

WHAT Supportive treatments +/- Dexamethasone, LMWH, O2

How do COVID virtual wards work?

Virtual wards are already available in many areas of the country and have been expanded as part of the NHS response to coronavirus. The immediate rollout of virtual wards was recommended in January 2021.

Hospitals transfer people onto a virtual ward as agreed in their discharge plan. They are provided with a pulse oximeter, agreed remote monitoring arrangements and additional care and support as required. They are also contacted daily as they would be on a hospital based ward round.

Clear guidance on what to do in case of any concerns (either via contacting 111, the COVID virtual ward team, or attending A&E in case of emergency) is provided. They are also given a hospital contact to call for any advice or support between 8am to 8pm, seven days a week. At 14 days, or before if deemed clinically appropriate, the person can be discharged from the service.

The patient’s general practice should be informed, and their health record updated accordingly. People who continue to have coronavirus symptoms at 14 days should receive a further clinical assessment and action taken as clinically appropriate. A friend or family member, or a volunteer should also collect and return the oximeter for decontamination and reuse.

Resources for professionals

Please visit the COVID Oximetry @home page for further guidance documents, e-learning courses, partner information.

The FutureNHS platform (login required) also includes access to a step by step toolkit for implementation. For access, please email england.home@nhs.net.

Support for patients, carers and families

Please visit the COVID Oximetry @home page for step by step instructions on using an oximeter and patient diary. These materials are also available in easy read and translated versions.