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NHS ‘virtual wards’ to treat long-term illness caused by Covid

Patients recovering from coronavirus will be treated online from their own homes because there is no funding for new rehab clinics, according to health officials.

NHS England said rehabilitation will ‘largely be provided in existing physical facilities’ and in some cases patients will be treated virtually in their own homes.

But the Health Service Journal (HSJ) said no capital funding was made available for more facilities – and spaces are currently limited.

Instead, a virtual ward – the website – will be used to treat the majority of people recovering from severe coronavirus symptoms.    

The Government confirmed a further £500 million in revenue funding over the rest of this year for Covid rehab services – meaning health workers’ salaries and the costs of existing buildings will be met. 

But no more buildings can be built, or renovated for the purpose, because capital funding – which is for long term projects – has not been made available. 

After a new rehab facility was opened in Surrey in May – billed by health officials as the ‘First Seacole Centre’ – NHS officials across the country were instructed to plan how best to deliver services.

Some wanted to replicate the Seacole Centre but the HSJ said local leaders have now been told there is no capital funding to build them.

It reported multiple capital bids for new Seacole units were rejected.

Ruth Ten Hove, director at the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, told the HSJ: ‘The message we have been given is that people can now do their rehab online (through a new NHS website).

‘We were involved in the website and it can get good outcomes. But it’s not for everyone and using that alone will widen health inequalities and digital exclusion.’

An NHS spokesman said the decision not to allocate capital funding was made because patients can access treatment online.  

They added: ‘The Government has now confirmed around £500 million of additional revenue funding over the rest of this year for Covid rehab services, available as part of enhanced hospital discharge, as originally planned.

‘Work with local NHS and social care providers suggests that these expanded rehab services can largely be provided in existing physical facilities as well as people’s own homes, so Government has not allocated extra capital in year for this purpose.’

The NHS Seacole Centre at Headley Court was named in honour of the pioneering nurse Mary Seacole and aimed to provide specialist rehabilitation care for patients recovering from Covid-19.

The formerly disused military hospital was transformed in 35 days, after the military stepped in the ramp up construction. 

NHS chief executive, Sir Simon Stevens, said at the time: ‘In response to the greatest health emergency of our time, frontline and support staff across the NHS have moved heaven and earth to provide expert care for over 90,000 Covid patients treated in our hospitals over just the past 90 days.’

The centre cares for tracheostomy wounds, offers therapy to recover the function of various organs and psychological treatment for any cognitive impairment.

It even helps with basic needs like washing where a patient is unable to take care of themselves following a severe battle with the disease. 

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