NHS launches digital “shop window” for care home vacancies

Profile picture for user ddpreez By Derek du Preez April 14, 2019
The Capacity Tracker tool aims to provide health and social care staff insight into the availability of care home vacancies, hopefully saving time and space.

Image of a doctor with an iPad
A new digital tool, funded by NHS England, has been launched to help local NHS Trusts and Councils better share information between one another, with the aim of saving time for staff and improving care for patients.

The Capacity Tracker essentially provides a digital “shop window” for health and social care staff that are looking for vacancies in care homes, which traditionally requires manual processes such as phoning up individual homes to see if space is available.

NHS England states that in 2018, around a quarter of a million hospital beds in England were taken up by people who were medically fit enough to be discharged, but who faced delays in an appropriate care home being found that could meet their recovery needs.

The NHS, working with councils, reduced the number of lost bed days by 20% between 2017 and last year, and by making the new Capacity Tracker tool more widely available, it hopes to reduce unnecessary delays leaving hospital still further.

The launch of the tool forms part of the NHS’s recently published Long Term Plan for the health service. Part of this includes an aim to ‘do things differently’ and making better use of data and digital technology.

The NHS has also recently launched a central digital organisation - dubbed NHSX - which focuses on open standards, interoperability, user-led design and a cloud first approach. Matthew Gould, currently Director General for Digital Media and Sport, has been appointed CEO of NHSX and it is thought that spend controls will be introduced to help the organisation drive change across the NHS.

Pilot to wide adoption

NHS England has said that the Capacity Tracker is accessible on any device and should take care homes just 30 seconds to upload details of their available beds. It is hoped that this will help health and social care staff to find the right services for individual patients, including those with dementia or a learning disability.

Currently, over 6,250 care homes have already signed up to the system, piloted in the North, Devon and Berkshire last year. The app is now available for thousands to sign up to.

Jo Chilton, Programme Director, Adult Social Care Transformation Programme at Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership, said:

“The Capacity Tracker was first introduced to Greater Manchester in 2017. We are pleased with the uptake it has had with care homes and health and social care teams across our localities now having quicker and better access to vacancy information.

“We have been impressed with the speed at which the Capacity Tracker support team have been able to on-board care homes over a very short space of time.”

The North of England Commissioning Support Unit, funded by NHS England, developed the tracker and led the pilot. Care homes, local authority, CCG and hospital staff co-designed the system and ‘Care Home Champions’ are being regularly encouraged to give feedback to improve and spread its use.

The Capacity Tracker is being highlighted as an opportunity to bring disparate organisations across the NHS closer together, placing information sharing and reducing friction at the centre of what is possible.

Ruth May, Chief Nursing Officer for England said: “One of the central ambitions of the NHS Long Term Plan is to better support people to age well, and that means joining up different services locally to better meet people’s needs.

“By using this technology to work together more closely, hospitals, local authorities and care homes can ensure that people get the right care in the right place at the right time, and aren’t left waiting in hospital unnecessarily.

“Working with our local government, hospitals and community services as well as patients and their families has been essential to developing this new approach and will be key to rolling it out everywhere.”