Home technology helping to ease NHS beds crisis

Technology installed in the home to help elderly people live independently is being introduced in some parts of the country to ease the growing problem of bed blocking.

Bed blocking, also known as delayed discharge, happens when elderly patients are medically fit to leave hospital but stay for an extended time due to problems arranging suitable care in the community.

Latest figures from NHS England show bed blocking has risen by around 25% in a year, mainly due to the NHS financial crisis, huge deficits in social care budgets and an ageing population.

In January 2017, there were 197,100 bed blocking days nationwide – a sharp increase from January 2016 when this figure stood at 159,600 days. The proportion of delays attributable to social care has grown with the main reason for these delays in January 2017 being “patients awaiting care package in their own home”.

In a bid to tackle this issue, NHS West Sussex and West Sussex County Council have joined forces to provide a telecare service with the aim of enabling older people to live safely at home for longer and stay out of hospital.

They have contracted independent living specialist Welbeing to provide a telecare service free for 13 weeks for eligible service users. The most appropriate telecare equipment is installed depending on the individual’s needs, with most receiving a Lifeline home unit and and wireless pendant that the elderly person wears around their neck and is radio-linked to a 24/7 contact centre. This is manned by expertly trained staff and if the pendant is pressed in an emergency, it opens a two-way call system with them.

This enables the staff member to decide upon an appropriate response which can be anything from verbal reassurance to alerting the emergency services – often reducing pressure on the ambulance service and hospitals.

Some people will have additional sensors fitted such as a fall detector, bed or chair occupancy sensor, temperature sensors or smoke, gas or carbon monoxide detectors.

The service has been set up to reduce avoidable hospital admissions, enable timely discharge from hospital, reduce domiciliary care and delay admission to a residential care home.

Steve Smith, CEO of Welbeing, said: “The West Sussex model has significant benefits to health and social care as well as to service users and their families. Our aim is to work in partnership with our customers to generate even better outcomes for each pound spent, and help to increase quality of life for some of the more vulnerable people living in the communities in which we work.”

Sue Tivey, Senior Contracts Officer, Directorate of Care, Wellbeing and Education at West Sussex County Council, added: “We need to give the best support possible in the most effective way, and we are in the process of improving the embedding of telecare into pathways.  This helps us to give our service users 24 hour reassurance at the same time as being financially sustainable. It has also helped to improve information flow between health and social care, enhancing the patient experience and giving professionals additional information to support decision making.”

In the London Borough of Havering, an 18-month study compared the hospital admission rates of two groups of people: one group that received home care and had assisted living technology and the second group that just had home care. After six months, hospital admissions in the group that only had home care increased by 16%, but there was a 9% decrease in hospital admissions for the people who had telecare.

Steve Smith continued: “Technology alone will never replace human contact, but telecare is a low cost way of making sure people are secure and safe when they are taken home after a stay in hospital and has been proven to cut down on unnecessary hospital admission.

“Increasingly, telecare is being a useful tool in freeing up vital hospital bed space and making best use of diminishing social care budgets.”

Welbeing supports over 70,000 people living in private and public sector homes across the country through a wide range of telecare services with costs as low as £15.96 per month.