Limerick, Dublin hospital patients to receive at-home treatment in ‘virtual wards’

Later this month, HSE will roll out ‘safe and efficient’ alternative as system struggles with demand for beds

Patients will be provided with equipment and demonstrations on how to use the digital project, the HSE said. Photograph: Jeff Moore/PA Wire

Some patients will be able to receive hospital treatment from home, under a new digital project announced by the Health Service Executive (HSE) on Friday.

The virtual wards programme will initially be for cardiology and respiratory patients of St Vincent’s University Hospital (SVUH) and University Hospital Limerick (UHL). Patients who are medically stable but require ongoing monitoring and care will be eligible to receive care under the system.

The acute hospital system is consistently under pressure, with demand often exceeding capacity, resulting in overcrowding. This has particularly been seen in UHL, which is consistently deemed the most overcrowded hospital in the State. This initiative seeks to reduce demand on physical beds.

Under the system, the clinical team will work with patients, and their families or carers to assess whether they might be suitable to be treated through the virtual ward service. Patients will be provided with equipment and demonstrations on how to use it.


Once a patient is transferred to the virtual ward service, they remain under the care of the consultant team that provided their care in the hospital. A personalised care plan will then be agreed between the patient, their family or carers and the consultant-led care team.

While at home, the HSE said the patient’s care would continue to be reviewed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If a patient’s condition worsens, or if they are not responding to the treatment as expected, the virtual ward team will be automatically alerted by the monitoring technology.

Following the completion of the patients’ care, they will be discharged from the virtual ward.

According to the HSE, the new system “offers a safe and efficient alternative to hospital stays, supporting patients who prefer to receive expert hospital care, monitoring and treatment in their own home”.

The service will be introduced in the two hospitals later this month.

Prof Richard Greene, chief clinical information officer at the HSE, said the programme would empower patients “to be active partners in managing their health and wellbeing”.

Maureen Gilbert, patient representative on the Virtual Ward Steering Group, said research had shown patients who recovered at home experienced less stress and anxiety than those in hospital.

“There are lots of other benefits too: lower risk of hospital-acquired infection and loss of muscle strength,” she added.

Deirdre McNamara, director of strategic programmes at the HSE, said virtual wards heralded a “new and exciting phase of the digital transformation of our health service”.

“They support the delivery of care in the right place, at the right time. The service will start this month and will be scaled up, supporting increased in-hospital bed capacity, which will reduce pressure on the health system over time.”

The announcement comes following the recent publication of the Government’s Digital Health Framework, under which there are plans to introduce a national electronic healthcare record (EHR) system, and a patient app.

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is Health Correspondent of The Irish Times