Thousands of people with heart failure can now be treated at home as the NHS continues to expand the use of virtual wards to free up hospital beds.
Virtual wards allow patients to remain at home while receiving care from clinical staff, who use apps or wearable technology to monitor them remotely.
The teams can also prescribe medication, order blood tests and administer IV fluids if needed.
The expansion of the program comes after virtual wards to treat patients with acute respiratory infections were given the go-ahead by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) in August.
They are also used for frail patients who want to remain in the comfort of their own homes.
According to NHS England, around 920,000 people in the UK are living with heart failure, with 200,000 new cases diagnosed each year.
It also claims that the condition accounts for 5% of all emergency hospital admissions in the UK.
Professor Nick Linker, national clinical director for heart disease at NHS England, said: “It is estimated that there are over 900,000 people in the UK living with heart failure, many of whom will need specialist support and management if their condition worsens.
“The expansion of virtual wards for eligible heart failure patients will mean that, where clinically appropriate, more people will be able to receive the care and treatment they need from the comfort of their own homes and reduce the need for hospital admissions.”
John Maingay, director of policy and advocacy at the British Heart Foundation (BHF), said: “With ever-increasing pressure on the NHS, we need to look at new and improved ways of delivering heart failure care.
“With the right support, virtual wards can provide safe care in the comfort of one's home and this could help reduce the increasing number of heart failure hospital admissions while improving treatment outcomes.
“It is important that local services have enough trained and supported staff to fully implement this new guidance.”
There are around 12 virtual wards dedicated to treating heart failure, NHS England said, with University Hospitals Liverpool NHS Foundation Trust (LUHFT) and Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust (MCFT) already participating in the scheme.
Combined, the two trusts have treated more than 500 patients with the condition effectively.
Earlier this month, NHS England said it had met its ambition to deploy 10,000 virtual ward beds by the end of September.
More than 240,000 patients have now been treated on virtual wards, he said, with national medical director Professor Sir Stephen Powis calling the program “a giant leap forward” in how patients are treated.
Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said the expansion “will enable people to get the specialist care they need from the comfort of their own home”.
“This approach will help speed up patient recovery times and reduce unnecessary trips to hospital, reducing pressure on the NHS this winter,” he added.
The milestone came as new figures revealed that NHS waiting lists had reached 7.75 million in August.
It is the highest since records began in 2007.
Sir Stephen added that the latest expansion of virtual wards “has been implemented at a crucial time just before winter, when there will be much greater pressure on our hospitals and it will free up beds for those who need them most”.
Louise Ansari, chief executive of Healthwatch England, said: “Early indications are that those who have used virtual wards like the convenience of treatment or recovery at home, knowing they can still access support if needed.
“The news that the scheme is being extended will be welcomed by those who prefer to be at home rather than in hospital and are not interested in remote consultations.”