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The expansion and use of virtual ward beds has stalled so far in 2024 after strong growth in the second half of last year, according to analysis of official figures.

Virtual ward capacity increased by 27 per cent between July and December 2023, from 9,713 to 12,325, while the number of virtual ward “beds” occupied by patients increased by 38 per cent.

But between December 2023 and May 2024, virtual ward capacity only increased by 4.4 per cent, while utilisation increased by less than 1 per cent.

It comes as ring-fenced funding for virtual wards came to an end in March. The services, which involve the use of tech to care for patients in their own home when they would otherwise be in hospital, must now be drawn from wider urgent and emergency care funding.

Despite the slow-down in growth and cut to ring-fenced funding, NHS England is still encouraging integrated care boards to expand their use of virtual wards, following a study that found 9,000 hospital admissions had been avoided in the South East thanks to the initiative.

NHSE has a long-term ambition of 24,000 virtual ward beds nationally, while it is targeting a consistent utilisation rate of 20 per cent.

Strikes, but not those ones…

Trusts are this week surveying the damage after another five days of strikes by junior doctors.

But a growing number of trusts are now also having to contend with strike action by their healthcare assistants in a dispute over backpay.

HSJ reported on Tuesday that more than 300 clinical support staff at East Suffolk and North Essex Foundation Trust have voted to strike after 96 per cent of Unison members backed industrial action in a formal ballot.

The dispute centres around backpay for performing clinical duties and “for the years spent working above their pay grade”.

ESNEFT moved workers to the higher band in March but Unison’s contention that the trust must also fully compensate them for the years spent working above their pay grade.

Strikes over HCA back pay initially began in the North West region, where two trusts have faced industrial action. But then in February HCAs at Bedfordshire Hospitals, North Tees and Hartlepool and South Tees Hospital FTs also all voted for strike action.

Also on

As the nation prepares for a Labour government, Ben Clover in London Eye says the capital’s agonising decline as a place for staff to live was not unforeseen. And in Comment, Anita Charlesworth describes the tough choices the new government will face as it tries to balance its ambitions to improve care with fiscal realities.