Bed blocking and winter pressures on Lynn’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital is likely to be eased this year thanks to a new £628,000 nursing service.
Officials behind the Virtual Ward programme say it has created more than 20 new healthcare jobs and has already helped a total of 50 patients to be treated in their own homes instead of them being forced to stay in hospital for longer.
Norfolk Community Health and Care NHS Trust and the hospital trust are piloting the initiative, which has been funded by the West Norfolk Urgent Care Board, to prevent a repeat of last year’s problems.
In March last year, hospital chiefs were close to declaring a black alert, which would have closed the site to new admissions, after all 433 beds were taken.
Thanks to the virtual ward, patients who are medically fit but still need extra acute nursing support will be treated in their own homes rather than remain in hospital.
Wanda Thompson and her team will be able to care for a maximum of 26 patients for a period of six days or more before transferring them onto district nursing teams or social services.
She said: “This exciting initiative is helping people to return home from hospital sooner, while freeing up important hospital resources during the busy winter period.
“We know that people prefer to receive care in their own homes wherever possible, so I’m delighted that as part of this pilot we have already been able to help so many people to leave hospital and to access the care they need in the comfort of their own homes.
“We are working very closely with the hospital to get people home so we can free up beds. This is going to make a big difference to the QEH.”
The team is made up of three nurses, a physiotherapist, an occupational therapist, two care co-ordinators and 25 health care assistants.
The virtual ward started to treat patients on December 2 and is due to run initially until March 31, when it is hoped the service will be extended.
The ward’s care co-ordinators work with the hospital’s discharge and ward teams to identify patients who are felt to be suitable to be cared for under the programme.
Patients with non-operative fractures, or who are suffering from diarrhoea and vomiting or waiting for packages of care to be implemented could be taken into the team’s care.
They can also help elderly patients to build their confidence after a fall, as well as those suffering from respiratory illnesses or provide end of life care.
Mrs Thompson said: “We are likely to visit these patients up to three times a day for an intensive visit when we allocate 45 minutes to an hour for each visit.”
The nurses and care assistants will not only provide medical care but help with other jobs.
Mrs Thompson said: “We will do anything. We’ve made fires and even got some shopping for someone. It is about doing what the patient needs.
“I love this service. It is really satisfying to know that we are bringing someone home from hospital who wants to be at home.
“We provide a high level of input to enable them to be at home and that’s what patients want.
“We feel the partnership with the QEH is really positive.”
The hospital’s director of urgent care, Margaret Barnaby, said: “This service reduces the number of patients who remain in hospital because they need support at home to recover from their illness or injury.
“This will help ensure that patients requiring emergency hospital care, can be admitted without delay.”
Dr Sue Crossman, chief officer of the West Norfolk clinical commissioning group (CCG), said: “This speeds up their return to normal levels of dependency and reduces the risks associated with longer hospital stays.
“This, in turn, will enable our hospital to function more efficiently, freeing up hospital beds to those who need them most urgently.”