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Remote care

Frailty virtual wards: a theory of change 


Virtual wards are designed to provide people with care they would otherwise receive in hospital, but in their own homes. Providing hospital-type care at home is intended to help prevent avoidable hospital admissions and support people to safely leave hospital sooner. Virtual wards are growing in number, with frailty virtual wards and respiratory virtual wards among the most popular types. The NHS has set a longer term ambition of 50,000 admissions to a virtual ward a month.

It’s important to understand how virtual wards are intended to work and what is needed for them to deliver on their goals.


We’re developing a theory of change that focuses on frailty virtual wards. A theory of change outlines how an intervention is expected to work and why. It’s helpful in designing, implementing, and evaluating interventions and programmes. Among other things, a theory of change allows people to understand how an intervention is intended to work and enables shared understanding across diverse groups about what components make up the intervention and the resources needed.

To develop a theory of change for frailty virtual wards, a team of THIS Institute researchers will interview a range of people involved with them to understand how frailty virtual wards are intended to work in practice. For example, we want to find out the activities that happen on a virtual ward, the expected outcomes, and their proposed impact, as well as the resources they need. We will also analyse key materials like service specifications and guidance documents to give us further insight.

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Funding and ethics

This study is funded by the Health Foundation’s grant to The Healthcare Improvement Studies Institute (THIS Institute). It is independently led by THIS Institute. The study was reviewed by  the University of Cambridge Psychology Research Ethics Committee.

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