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Care home ‘virtual’ beds reduce hospital admissions

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Specialist nursing in-reach teams that provide 'virtual' beds to care home residents can significantly improve patient care and reduce hospital admissions, latest study results have suggested.

UK researchers evaluated an in-reach team (IRT) that provided on-site specialist nursing care to four care homes in Bath and North East Somerset.

The in-reach service aimed to prevent unnecessary hospital admissions or transfers to higher-dependency nursing homes, by providing 24-hour nursing cover for 131 long-term residents. The team also maintained 15 ‘virtual’ hospital beds within the homes to avoid actual hospital admission.

Between July 2005 and June 2007, the IRT received 733 referrals. Just over 80% of the referrals required short-term support for matters such as diabetes, constipation or vomiting. Of the 16% of residents who required admission to a ‘virtual’ hospital bed, the most common reasons for referral were falls, chest infections and urinary tract infections (UTIs).

Over the two-year period, the specialist service prevented 197 unnecessary hospital admissions, and 28 transfers to higher-dependency homes were avoided, the study authors said. The team also liaised with hospital and care home staff to facilitate 20 early hospital discharges.

Additionally, nurses from the team provided support to care home staff, and training and education on how to spot the early warning signs of conditions such as UTIs.

‘Better preventative and nursing care can enable care home residents to stay in familiar surroundings rather than spending time in hospital,’ the authors said online in the journal BMC Health Services Research.

‘The enhanced quality of care for residents, with the opportunity to access a wider range of services, will also result in improved quality of life.’

Lynn Young, RCN primary care adviser, said this type of in-reach service should be made available to all care home residents.

‘Elderly residents in care homes can be fragile and should not have to be taken to hospital just because they pick up a UTI,’ she said.

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