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
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
- Frequently asked questions – COVID Oximetry @home and COVID virtual wards
- Diabetes UK – Guidance for healthcare professionals on managing hyperglycaemia/diabetes in a COVID virtual ward.
- E-Learning for Healthcare – COVID introductory programme for the non-registered workforce
- COVID virtual ward letter and standard operating procedure – supporting immediate roll out of COVID ‘virtual wards’ as an option for earlier safe and supported discharge.
Please visit the COVID Oximetry @home page for further guidance documents, e-learning courses, partner information.
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.
Other useful resources
- How pulse oximeters have been a lifeline during the pandemic and could change how we provide care. Blog by Matt Inada-Kim.