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Call for care homes to adopt ‘red bags’ for hospital admissions

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Patients going into hospital from care homes should be given a special red bag to allow for an easier stay and quicker discharge, according to NHS England.

The national body noted that the red bags could be used to store paperwork and medication, and to keep safe personal items like glasses, slippers and dentures.

“It’s a simple idea that makes a big difference”

Kim Kerwood

When a care home patient travels to hospital, the bags could be handed to ambulance crews who then passed them on to doctors on arrival. The scheme is aimed at improving efficiency and was first tried three years ago by care homes in Sutton in South West London.

The initiative there has reduced hospital stays of care home patients by four days, saving £167,000 a year, according to Sutton Homes of Care Vanguard, part of the local clinical commissioning group. It said the average length of stay with a bag was 13.4 days, compared to 17.4 days without.

The red bags provided hospital staff with quick up-to-date information and medication requirements for the patient, avoiding unnecessary phone calls. They also acted as a storage place for key personal items preventing patients from losing possessions such as hearing aids and glasses.

Care home staff were trained how to pack the bag correctly, ensure the easy check list was completed, and know who needed to take responsibility for the bag when an emergency admission arises.

The same happens at hospital when the patient returns home, said those behind the Sutton scheme.

“This is an example of where a joined up approach is helping to improve patient care”

Stephen Powis

Now NHS England is urging all areas of the country to use the red bag scheme and has produced a toolkit to help the roll-out.

The red bag scheme is part of a drive to integrate care and will mean patients only have to tell their story once, said NHS England.

Eothen Homes in Sutton was the first to use the red bag. “On the day it was launched, one of our residents fell and we suspected that sadly he might have a fracture,” recalled manager Kim Kerwood.

“We got the red bag ready and completed the forms for the ambulance crew and hospital staff,” she said.

“The resident and red bag went off to hospital and to our delight two weeks later he returned home fit and well and, importantly, with the red bag complete with a discharge letter and medication. It’s a simple idea that makes a big difference,” she added.

Since its success in Sutton, the initiative has been taking up elsewhere. About half of health and wellbeing boards said they had started the scheme in their area and 90% had an aim to roll it out next year.

“Having vital information readily available in one eye-catching place will save time”

Maria Paterson

Professor Stephen Powis, NHS England’s national medical director, said: “This is an example of where a joined up approach is helping to improve patient care and speed up a stay in hospital for all the right reasons.

“Sometimes it’s the personal touch that makes a big difference to patients, especially if they’re elderly, and the red bag helps people feel reassured and more at home,” he said.

Maria Paterson, adult protection specialist nurse at Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “Having vital information readily available in one eye-catching place will save time at each stage of the patient’s care, allowing staff to make more informed decisions.

“It helps avoid all the confusing phone calls that can happen with care home patients who may have a complex medical history because everything is there in the bag,” she said.

The red bag scheme is part of several NHS initiatives to make care more proactive in care homes. The Enhanced Health in Care Homes Vanguard has reduced total bed days by 4.5%, compared to an increase of 1.4% in areas without the scheme, according to NHS England.

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Readers' comments (2)

  • We welcomed the red bag scheme and sent all residents in to hospital using them. Sadly the hospitals did not return the favour and we lost all 3 of our allocated bags! They take a lot of effort and we are no less busy than the wards so it was a real shame for our residents. Much room for improvement NHS :)

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  • We use the red bag in our care home. Besides all reasons already mentioned, the other reason i find it helpful is that each bag has a unique number on it. When we ring for an update on how the resident is doing whilst in hospital. We usually get the standard reply , as we aren't a relative "they are doing well, or as well as can be expected." If we mention the bag number, hospital staff will give us more indepth information.

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