Hospital waiting times are at their worst-ever level and the latest ‘Delayed Transfers of Care’ figures released by NHS show that 149,400 days of care were lost in hospitals in September this year, because patients could not be sent home or to another part of the health and social care system. This is an increase from September 2018 when the figure was 144,600 and many NHS Trusts fear worsening conditions as we head further into winter and pressures arise.
Bed blocking - whereby patients are forced to remain in hospital despite not needing medical attention – is a serious issue and one that worsens during winter. One of the main reasons patients are left taking up valuable bed spaces that could be put to better use for urgent incoming cases, is that they’re waiting for a care package in their own home.
Local Authorities are struggling to provide adequate levels of support to those in their community that rely so dearly on it, mainly due to the huge funding gap in social care investment. Older patients will be most at risk, as they cannot be discharged from hospital when ready, due to fears their homes are not safe for them to return to.
Not only does keeping older patients in hospital beds cause unnecessary distress, it increases their risk of acquiring infections and puts hospitals under huge additional strain. The solution that we believe is key to helping release this strain and free up beds is to improve support in the home, allowing medical staff to confidently discharge patients to recuperate at home independently and safely.
Tunstall, a forerunner in technology innovation for the health, housing and social care, believes that connected healthcare is the missing piece of this puzzle; a belief shared by the current health secretary Matt Hancock, who last year pledged an additional £487m to transform technology in the NHS to improve patient care.
Connected care technology refers to alarms and sensors placed throughout the home to unobtrusively monitor residents’ movements following their discharge from hospital. Bed sensors, fire or flood alarms and door entry sensors will immediately alert a response team in the event an individual appears to have fallen or significantly altered their normal behaviour patterns. This provides an additional layer of safeguarding and support, whilst still enabling individuals to lead independent lives at home.
Connected health technology enables the remote capture of patients’ vital signs and symptoms through, for example, identifying spikes in temperature or a decrease in oxygen saturation that may indicate deterioration in health. This allows medical practitioners to monitor patients’ recovery remotely, setting parameters for automatic escalations if symptoms worsen.
When implemented collectively, these technologies decrease the likelihood of hospital visits among older patients because chronic health conditions are better managed and incidents at home are responded to or treated more efficiently. Even when hospital visits do become necessary, having preventative measures and health monitoring in place at home means patients can be discharged quickly, reducing bed blocking.
Introducing connected technology in the home still comes with cost implications, however supporting elderly patients to live safely in their homes or in assisted living is still a much more cost-effective solution than full-time care. It provides these individuals with their independence for longer and ultimately improves their quality of life.
A joined-up, integrated approach to health and social care is crucial if both sectors are to face the challenges of a growing and ageing population and restricted government funding. Tunstall believes that technology-enabled care (TEC) is the answer to many age-old problems plaguing the NHS.
For more information on how connected care solutions can help safeguard and future-proof healthcare services, visit uk.tunstall.com.