Medway NHS Foundation Trust’s virtual wards strategy is freeing up hospital beds and saving tens of thousands of pounds, with the help of technology from Vygon UK.

The trust, which operates the Medway Maritime Hospital in Gillingham, and its patients are seeing the benefits of the virtual wards programme, which is supporting people to receive care in their own homes under the direction of the hospital.

The strategy is using innovative medical technology from Vygon UK, including the Accufuser elastomeric pump. The pump allows staff at the hospital to administer drugs at the correct dose and rate. Used with remote monitoring technology, it means hospitals can track patients’ vital signs remotely. Clinicians remain in contact with patients via telephone or video call, and as the pump only needs to be changed every 24 hours, only one in-person visit a day is needed.

By enabling patients to remain at home, it avoids the need for hospital stays and also limits patients’ exposure to potential infection.

Prior to the pump being used on the virtual ward, the SMART team were unable to accept referrals for patients who required IV antibiotics frequently during the day.

Jackie Hammond, clinical nurse lead and service improvement manager at Medway, said: “The demand for beds as well as the apprehension from my patients, recovering in a hospital environment during the pandemic, reinforced the need to introduce Accufuser elastomeric devices for our OPAT (Outpatient Parenteral Antimicrobial Therapy) pathways.

“This allowed me to accommodate more patients on our virtual ward. The 24-hour fresh filled concept was important for me because my team could spend quality time with the patient during the preparation, plus it gives the opportunity to assess and evaluate the effect of the drug treatment.”

Cost savings revealed

The Medway Surgical Medical Acute Recovery Team (SMART) started using the pump in October 2021. Between then and January this year its use has meant an additional 64 patients were able to receive treatment at home. In the first 10 months alone, Medway’s virtual ward and the pump avoided 496 hospital bed days, saving the NHS almost £160k.

According to Medway, a day on the virtual ward costs £187.51. In comparison, a stay on a conventional ward for haematology patients is £460, rising to £658 for a respiratory patient.

Vygon business development manager, James Cunningham, said: “As the drive across the NHS for virtual wards accelerates, Jackie has been ahead of the curve and demonstrates that it not only pays for itself but also generates savings for the trust.

“The use of innovative medical equipment to enable patients to receive care at home is important for their experience, but crucially, it’s a key national priority, which all trusts are tasked with delivering upon. It’s great to see that the implementation of Accufuser has contributed to this service and had had such a positive impact across the board.”

Virtual wards are set to expand rapidly within the NHS in the near-future, as the government recently unveiled plans to expand their use with the goal of treating up to 50,000 patients a month.