National Virtual Ward Programme

The HSE’s National Virtual Ward Programme is launching the first two Virtual Wards at the end of Q2 2024. The service will initially be available in St Vincent’s University Hospital and University Hospital Limerick. This exciting new HSE programme will support patients who would prefer to receive their care at home by expanding our virtual services and leveraging digital technologies.

This is a priority deliverable of the HSE Unscheduled and Emergency Care Plan and the National Service Plan. These Virtual Wards will be the first of their kind in the Irish healthcare system.

What are Virtual Wards?

A Virtual Ward is a safe and efficient alternative to HSE bedded care that is enabled by technology. Virtual Wards support patients who would otherwise be in hospital to receive the acute care, monitoring, and treatment they need in their own home.

A Virtual Ward is not a mechanism intended for enhanced primary care programmes; chronic disease management; proactive deterioration prevention; or social care for medically fit patients for discharge. All of these may make use of telehealth and remote monitoring, but they are not Virtual Wards.

Who are Virtual Wards for?

Virtual Ward care may be offered to patients who:

  • are admitted to hospital with certain conditions
  • are deemed medically stable by their care team and
  • still require ongoing monitoring and care prior to discharge.

What happens on the Virtual Ward?

Patients who are deemed fit by their consultant to complete their care in a Virtual Ward will be provided with remote monitors and a small computer that can send information about the patient’s health back to a dedicated team of nurses and doctors in the hospital.

Patients who are transferred to the Virtual Ward will remain under the care of the consultant team that provided care in the hospital. A personalised care plan is agreed with each patient, family or carers where appropriate, and healthcare teams including the consultant.

Patient care is reviewed 24 hours per day, by the medical and nursing teams for as long as the patient remains on the virtual ward. The Virtual Ward team will agree the best ways to make contact with patients – this could be by telephone or video call. They will also explain to patients and their family and/or carers what to do if the patient feels unwell.

Patients are enabled to manage their condition by participating in monitoring their health at home. The Virtual Ward team meets with patients and their family or carer and takes time to explain how their care will be managed.

The Virtual Ward team will:

  • Explain how remote monitoring using technology will be used and tailored to the needs of the patient’s individual health condition.
  • Teach patients and their family or carer how to use the devices that will be used to safely monitor the patient’s health at home.

What are the benefits for patients?

International research shows that being at home - where patients may be surrounded by friends, family, and pets – can improve their physical health, mental wellbeing, and overall recovery.

Availing of care at home, in the Virtual Ward is linked with:

  • A lower risk of hospital-acquired infections and loss of muscle strength 
  • A lower cost of travel to and from the hospital for patients, family, and carers
  • Being less likely to require another inpatient hospital stay in the near future
  • Improved patient experience
  • Reduced stress and anxiety
  • Enhanced recovery 

The Virtual Ward is a new initiative in Ireland and the specific benefits and risks of the service in Ireland are not yet fully established. Patient experience is currently being used to help inform the future of the Virtual Ward service.

What are the benefits for staff?

The Virtual Ward Model also offers significant benefits to staff. High levels of staff satisfaction have been reported in pilot sites. The Virtual Ward model facilitates more one-to-one patient communication and care, presenting an opportunity for staff to expand their skillsets, particularly around virtual patient care.

Programme Governance

The programme is a collaborative initiative bringing together a range of stakeholders including:

  • eHealth Ireland
  • National Clinical Programme Respiratory
  • National Heart Programme
  • St Vincent’s University Hospital
  • University Hospital Limerick

HSE enabling functions include:

  • Communications
  • Finance
  • Human Resources
  • Office of Nursing and Midwifery Services Development
  • National Health and Social Care Professionals Office

Patient representatives are involved in the design and development of the service..

The programme is led by Prof. Richard Greene, Chief Clinical Information Officer, and Deirdre McNamara, Director of Strategic Programmes.

Goals and Impact

The HSE National Virtual Ward Programme aims to:

  1. Establish Virtual Wards in two acute hospital sites initially at the end of Q2 2024 and evaluate for impact
  2. Develop an agreed operating model (including clinical pathways) for Virtual Wards that will be applied nationally
  3. Oversee technology procurement and deployment for Virtual Wards
  4. Develop and implement an integrated national plan for Virtual Ward roll-out to further sites in late 2024 and 2025 (following completion of a robust evaluation).

How does the Virtual Ward differ from remote monitoring for chronic disease?

There are a number of projects under development in the Irish health service using remote monitoring for health management in many chronic disease areas, including chronic lung disease, heart conditions, diabetes, cancer, renal disease and in areas such as rehabilitation and frailty care.

Virtual wards provide inpatient hospital level care at home. Remote monitoring in chronic disease focuses on continuous tracking of a patient’s health status and vital signs and early detection of deterioration, using wearable devices and telehealth platforms. The virtual ward involves intensive monitoring with 24-hour staff availability and intervention. Remote monitoring for chronic disease is a care process over the longer term which aims to detect changes in the patient’s condition, allowing interventions (normally on working day/daytime basis) to prevent emergency attendance. 

Both approaches use similar digital tools, contribute to better outcomes for patients, make best use of healthcare resources to enable access to care, and enable patients to be active participants in their own care. Patients will likely have access to both care options at some point in their care journey.


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