Ruli Pennington is Editor of Council News Monitor and writes Night in the City an occasional column for i-D Information Daily. She is passionate about better public services, devolution & women's football.@UnruliP
New mobile phone technology is helping local authorities to alleviate NHS bed blocking. The new technology can help speed up hospital discharges and prevent unnecessary re-admissions, freeing up vital beds and also reducing the cost of post-hospital care.
There are growing divisions between local government and the health service over bed blocking. While the problem is widely understood to be a major contributor to the NHS's present difficulties the solution is, at least in part, outside of their control. The speed at which the NHS can "clear" hospital beds depends on adequate care facilities and support being available in a timely manner, "down stream", beyond the walls of the hospital . This depends on the local authority acting at a time when they are being required to do more with less money and fewer staff. The solution is clearly closer collaboration between NHS Trusts and Local Authority care providers.
Technology can offer local authorities a way of supporting people in their own homes after they have left hospital care. Affordable, sustainable home care can save local authorities money and in many cases offers better outcomes for the patient. To tackle one cause of bed blocking, in October 2016 the London Borough of Hounslow partnered with West Middlesex Hospital to help improve the quality and speed of some discharges by providing a Linkline+ Telecare kit, based around a specialist mobile device with an emergency button.
Emergency buttons are not new but traditionally they involve costly equipment installations at home. Discharges from hospital can be delayed for days or weeks while the work is done. By contrast, at the heart of the Telecare kit is a choice of two specialist mobile devices, OwnFone and Footprint, specialist devices designed for independent-living vulnerable people that end the need for fixed installations. West Middlesex Hospital keeps a number of the kits to hand, with the devices already live, so discharges can happen quickly.
OwnFone is a simple, lightweight mobile phone. For the Telecare kit it is configured with an SOS button and pre-programmed with the Linkline+ emergency number. Footprint is an even smaller, lightweight, wearable GPS tracking device. It's small enough to attach to a key ring, keeps tabs on the wearer's location and offers an SOS button, two-way, hands-free voice communication and a fall detector
Should calls come, Linkline+ is set up to respond round the clock, with dedicated officers highly experienced at dealing with people in crisis, providing reassurance and able to liaise with other services where needed.
OwnFone is essentially a fully functioning, lightweight, mobile phone which can be fully customised. For example the display and functions can be customised to suit the user and it can be pre-programmed with numbers to call including for Linkline+ users. Footprint brings the benefits of GPS tracking and two-way communications to a very small, handy, one-button device.
Both devices operate independently of any single UK mobile network and can freely roam between networks in search of the strongest signal, thus avoiding typical mobile network issues and giving the users peace of mind.
Linkline+ offers its Telecare packs free of charge to Hounslow residents for the first six weeks following discharge. After initial trials, 83% of users valued the service enough to subscribe as direct clients. Meanwhile, a three-month trial of a similar service in the West Midlands town of Dudley found a reduction in the number of people being readmitted to hospital, which was not only good news for the Telecare users but represented a saving to the NHS of £600 per averted re-admission.
Providing an instantly available, emergency contact system to patients on discharge can not only make a very real difference to their lives but also contributes to the freeing up of hospital beds. OwnFone are in talks with a number of local authorities and care providers about extending their service to many other regions of the country.