‘Red bags’ to be rolled out across England’s care homes getting patients home from hospital quicker

Innovative ‘red bags’ that help care home residents admitted to hospital be discharged quicker are being rolled out across the country.

The bags, which contain key paperwork, medication and personal items like glasses, slippers and dentures, are handed to ambulance crews by carers and travel with patients to hospital where they are then handed to the doctor.

The simple initiative started three years ago in Sutton, South West London, and now all areas of the country are being urged to adopt the scheme with a toolkit launched today to help.

It’s an example of how the NHS is integrating care, working in partnership with social care, to create a seamless pathway for patients so they only have to tell their story once.

Since April, the first parts of the country formally begin to work as integrated care systems, a key milestone as England makes the biggest national move to integrate care of any major western country.

So far the initiative in Sutton has showed:

  • Reduced hospital stays by three to four days, saving £167,000 a year
  • Stopped patients losing personal items such as dentures, glasses and hearing aids worth £290,000 in a year
  • Improved communication between care home and hospital staff saving time, resources and duplication

The scheme is just one NHS initiative taking place to make care more proactive in care homes; through the Enhanced Health in Care Homes Vanguard total bed days have dropped by 4.5%  as opposed to an increase in areas without the scheme of 1.4 per cent.

There are half a million more people aged over 75 than there were in 2010 – and there will be two million more in ten years’ time. They are also spending more years in ill-health than ever before.

There are 100,000 beds and 1.3 million workers in the NHS and more than 300,000 beds and 1.5 million workers in social care; the two sectors are becoming increasingly interdependent.

As well as giving reassurance to patients, the red bags provide hospital staff with quick, up-to-date information and medication requirements for the patient, avoiding unnecessary phone calls.

Since starting in Sutton, South West London, the initiative has seen uptake in other areas following its success; around 50% of Health and Wellbeing Boards report they have started the scheme in their area and 90% say they have an aim to roll it out next year.

Professor Stephen Powis, NHS England 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. Doing more of the obvious is key to improving all our experiences of care.”

Minister for Care Caroline Dinenage said: “This scheme is an excellent example of the NHS and social care system working together to improve care and support for vulnerable older patients. Not only is this more efficient – saving valuable resources – but it’s a much better experience for patients leaving hospital when their treatment has finished.

“It’s encouraging to see this scheme being rolled out across the country as we move towards our ambition of joined up care that is centred around the individual.”

Sarah Blow, Senior Responsible Officer for South West London Health and Care Partnership, said: “We’re incredibly proud of the work being done to improve the health of older people in Sutton by bringing together health and social care providers. Having seen the benefits to patients, we have already rolled out the red bag scheme in other boroughs in south west London, so we’re delighted that this will become a national scheme.”

Eothen Care Home in Sutton was the very first to use the red bag for one of their residents.

Manager Kim Kerwood said: “The red bag is a simple idea that makes a big difference. On the day it was launched, one of our residents fell and we suspected that sadly he might have a fracture. We got the red bag ready and completed the forms for the ambulance crew and hospital staff. 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. The scheme is a great step forward in the care we provide for our residents.”

Jason Morris, clinical team leader, London Ambulance Service, St Helier area, said:“The great thing about the red bag is that, put simply, the service is just more patient focussed.  Because the paperwork is standardised for every patient the handover to the ambulance crew is much more efficient.”

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.”

Care home staff are trained how to pack the bag correctly, ensure the easy check list is completed, and know who needs to take responsibility for the bag when an emergency admission arises. The same happens at hospital when the patient returns home.