NHS England has announced plans to help speed up patients’ discharge this winter, including additional ambulance hours, extra beds and new ‘care traffic control centres’, to ‘boost capacity and resilience’ across the NHS.
A nationwide rollout of ‘care traffic control centres’ will provide ‘one stop’ for staff to locate and co-ordinate the best and quickest discharge options for patients, according to NHS England.
The centres are expected to bring together teams from across NHS, social care, housing and voluntary services in one place to help ‘make live decisions and offer patients everything they need in one place’.
Around a quarter of local areas currently offer this service 12 hours a day, seven days a week, and this is set to expand to every area of the country by winter, NHS England said.
The commissioner expects a third of patients to be discharged using this model by December, drawing information from electronic patient records to track patients and link up with housing services.
Effective discharge systems
Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust has been able to speed up and improve staff rounds and discharge patients more easily using the Timely Care Hub, where staff can track tasks and patient statuses live, and check information like anticipated discharge date and pathways. In future, the Trust will also be able to use the Timely Care Hub to check outstanding risk assessments for things like falls, infection control and pain assessment.
North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust also has a new system which operates in a dedicated control room and tracks patients from admission through their hospital journey, highlighting in real-time any issues that could delay their discharge once they are medically ready to leave. Following a successful pilot, this system is now being rolled out around the country by NHS England.
The NHS will also be announcing a new scheme to encourage local teams to ‘overachieve’ on performance measures with financial incentives provided for these areas.
Winter preparations have been well underway since the publication of the NHS Urgent and Emergency Care Recovery Plan, NHS England said.
Bracing for high levels of respiratory illnesses
The NHS has also outlined how it is bracing for another winter facing the possibility of higher than usual levels of respiratory illness including Covid, flu and respiratory syncytial virus.
The use of Acute Respiratory Hubs, for urgent, same-day face-to-face assessment for conditions like Covid, flu and RSV, will also be expanded to be available in every part of the country.
Australia, whose activity often predicts what the NHS in England is likely to see in winter, is experiencing one of the biggest flu seasons on record with children particularly affected, making up four in five of flu-related hospital admissions, NHS England said.
Hospitals are putting more beds in place for patients and are on track to hit 5,000 additional ‘core’ permanent general and acute beds.
Plans will also be put in place to ‘strengthen ambulance response to mental health calls, to raise the profile of all-age 24/7 urgent mental health helplines’ and to avoid long lengths of stay in mental health inpatient settings.
‘Put the NHS on the front foot‘
Sarah-Jane Marsh, NHS national director of urgent and emergency care, said: ‘Ahead of winter we will not only have more ambulances and beds in place, but we will also be continuing to work more closely as an entire NHS and social care system, increasing the capacity of community services that help keep patients safe at home.
‘We will continue to build on this progress and do everything we can to put the NHS on the front foot ahead of what has the potential to be another challenging winter with covid and flu.’
Dr Vin Diwakar, NHS medical director for transformation, said: ‘The rapid expansion of ‘care traffic control centres‘, means patients can be more easily discharged with the right support when medically fit to leave hospital with the latest information available to staff in one spot – this is both better for patients and for the NHS.’