The NHS and wider health and care system is facing unprecedented challenges. Virtual wards allow patients to get the care they need at home safely and conveniently, rather than being in hospital. The NHS is increasingly introducing virtual wards to support people at the place they call home, including care homes.

Virtual wards are one of Greater Manchester’s top four priorities for winter. The task is to enhance, standardise and optimise existing services launched in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Success involves bringing staff, patients and their families and carers on the journey from the outset, ensuring positive experiences and outcomes for all.

Health Innovation Manchester is leading the transformation in Greater Manchester and took a forward-thinking approach to do things differently. They quickly identified the need to focus on people and behaviour change as a critical success factor. This is where Ethical Healthcare Consulting came in.


Our approach combined the expertise of experienced NHS communications practitioners with the unique insight of a behaviour change specialist.

The challenges of adopting and scaling virtual wards were different in each area, but, as independent consultants, we were able to remain impartial, making no assumptions. We were able to dedicate protected time and headspace that unfortunately in-house communications team often don’t have the capacity to do. Our impartiality was rewarded with an openness and honesty from those we met, which may have been more difficult to achieve between colleagues within the same organisation. This resulted in authentic and meaningful findings.


A 10-week discovery focused on gathering insight and synthesising findings to inform recommendations
and next steps. The process is outlined below.

This was all considered within the wider context of the political landscape and public sentiment.

1. Carried out a series of meetings with key people and reviewed relevant documents and data

2. Captured notes in Miro (online collaboration tool) from all meetings and review

3. From this, developed highlevel flow of stages in the clinician and patient journey, recording all perspectives, concerns and benefits

4. Identified who is involved in the virtual ward service journey at each stage

5. Filtered and sorted through 1,000+ soundbites and pieces of insight

6. Organised this information according to stage of the virtual ward pathway

7. Identified what needs to be in place at each stage to enable more people to move to the next stage

8. Identified the communications content and activity that will contribute to this end goal

9. Prioritised the communications actions which will have an early impact

From the discovery, it was clear communications has a significant role to play in providing clarity, raising awareness, increasing confidence, providing reassurance, and celebrating success.


There were some challenges reaching frontline clinicians who were still dealing with recovery following the Covid-19 pandemic. The campaign testing phase of the work fell during winter, when staff were under additional pressures, while also navigating multiple periods of industrial action.

Working with Health Innovation Manchester, we agreed alternative engagement processes, which were successful and gave us the valuable insight we needed.

We also hoped to engage with and tell the stories of more people who had experienced virtual wards.

However, the route to these people was through the operational virtual ward teams who were already under significant pressure, with competing priorities. Again, timing was a factor. There were many positive contacts made during the project, both by the team and the client, which we hope will provide leads in the future so that additional case studies can be captured and shared.

The team at Ethical Healthcare brought a fresh perspective and specialist expertise to a really challenging task. Their insight not only helped us understand the bigger picture relating to operationalising virtual wards, it also supported the project team and me improve our engagement with colleagues across Greater Manchester, enabling us to bring people together on a more cohesive journey. I’m looking forward to the next phase of work which will see these insights and our increased understanding embedded fully into the Greater Manchester Virtual Ward Programme. Dr Paula Bennett, Chief Nursing Information Officer, Health Innovation Manchester


Extensive engagement and insight gathering across multiple stakeholders – including clinicians, patients, families and carers – provided a relatively consistent picture of where different groups of people are, what they know and how they feel in relation to virtual wards.

Aligning feedback and insight with the eight stages and touchpoints along the virtual wards pathway enabled us to understand what barriers and challenges are preventing people moving through each stage of the process. And what the opportunities are to influence behaviours and attitudes.

The eight stages were:

  1. Building systemwide buy-in for virtual wards
  2. Identify patients to refer to a virtual ward
  3. Discussion with patient and family/carer
  4. Virtual ward equipment demonstration
  5. Virtual ward equipment set up and connected
  6. Consultations, calls and data (including troubleshooting)
  7. Escalation
  8. Discharge and return of equipment

Download our full case study to see how we managed changing behaviours at scale and the campaign that was developed to support this project.

Find out more

Listen to Martin’s story to see how the virtual wards approach helped him:


If you’re interested in learning more about this project or discussing opportunities for collaboration in the healthcare sector, please contact Matthew Roberts at