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Secretary of State visits Watford General Hospital

Posted: 6 January 2023

Picture of Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay MP visiting Watford General Hospital

Pictured above from left to right: Dr Rachel Hoey
(divisional director emergency medicine), Sarah Cato
(lead nurse emergency medicine) and Steve Barclay
(secretary of state for health and social care)

Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay MP visited Watford General Hospital today to hear about its redevelopment, to visit the emergency department and to meet the team using technology to deliver care via a ‘virtual hospital’.

Phil Townsend and Matthew Coats, chairman and chief executive of West Herts Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, together with leading clinicians, Watford MP Dean Russell and Dr Jane Halpin (chief executive of the Herts and West Essex Integrated Care Board), discussed approaches to address the current pressures in the local health system and the trust’s plans for new and better buildings.

The Secretary of State then met senior clinicians in the emergency department and visited an inpatient ward before getting a view from the hospital roof of the site for a new hospital in Watford.

He ended his tour with a visit to the virtual hospital where he saw how patient care is being transformed by technology. The UK’s first virtual hospital (VH) was set up by West Hertfordshire Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust (WHTH) at Watford General Hospital in 2020 to prevent it from being overwhelmed by demand for beds for Covid patients.

A VH model of care uses technology to provide a regular feed of health data from the patient in their own homes to a virtual hospital hub where the results are closely monitored by clinicians.

More than 5,000 Covid patients were treated via the VH, saving thousands of ‘bed days’ whilst keeping patients safe. Excellent clinical outcomes and positive patient feedback spurred the team on to rolling out this model of care to other conditions; heart failure and COPD. There are plans to expand the range of conditions that can be treated in this way.

Steve Barclay said: "Rising Covid and flu cases are putting pressure on emergency departments – nationally over 5,000 hospital beds a day are taken up by flu patients, compared to just 50 this time last year – the highest we’ve seen in a decade.

"I visited Watford General Hospital to meet the team and see their innovative virtual ward which allows patients recovering from diseases such as Covid and heart failure to be monitored from the comfort of their homes, freeing up hospital beds and helping to cut the delays and clear the backlogs.

"Watford is also part of our biggest hospital building programme in a generation, and it was great to meet staff involved with the plans for the new hospital, which will help transform care for patients."

WHTH’s chief executive Matthew Coats said: "Our bricks and mortar may be outdated but we were delighted to show that we are leading the way with innovative approaches to patient care. It was great to be able to demonstrate how our virtual hospital is going from strength to strength. We also welcomed the opportunity to reiterate how ready we are to move on with our redevelopment plans."

Dean Russell said: "I was delighted the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care visited Watford General following my invitation last year. He is aware I am unapologetic in making the case for investment at Watford General. The visit was an important opportunity to not only show first-hand the impact this would make for patients and staff alike, but also showcase the UK-leading innovations at Watford in virtual wards and digital health. I would like to thank all the hospital staff we met today for their invaluable feedback and insights."


  1. For more information, please contact the communications team on: 01923 436280 or email: For out of hours media enquiries please call the Watford General Hospital switchboard on 01923 244366 and ask for the on call communications manager.
  2. West Hertfordshire Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust serves people from across Hertfordshire, north London and further afield. It operates from three hospitals; Watford General, St Albans City and Hemel Hempstead. The trust has a catchment area of over 500,000 people and is one of the largest employers locally, with around 5,000 staff and volunteers.
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