NHS England is introducing new technology to tackle bed blocking after a quarter of a million hospital bed days in England last year were taken up by people who were medically fit enough to be discharged, but who faced delays in an appropriate care home being found that could meet their recovery needs.

The new digital portal allows health and social care staff to see how many vacancies there are in local care homes, saving hours of time phoning around to check availability and helping people to get the right care or return home as quickly as possible.

The NHS, working with councils, reduced the number of lost bed days by 20% between 2017 and last year, and making the new tool – the Capacity Tracker – more widely available, is one of a number of measures being taken to reduce unnecessary delays leaving hospital still further.

The digital portal is accessible on any device, and takes care homes just 30 seconds to upload details of their available beds, helping health and social care staff to find the right services for individual patients, including those with dementia or a learning disability.

Over 6,250 care homes have already signed up to the system, piloted in the North, Devon and Berkshire last year, and now thousands more can sign up to use it.

The roll-out of the tool will contribute to ambitions set out in the NHS Long Term Plan to upgrade support to reduce avoidable long stays in hospital, including better sharing of information between care homes and hospital staff.

Ruth May, Chief Nursing Officer for England said: “One of the central ambitions of the NHS Long Term Plan is to better support people to age well, and that means joining up different services locally to better meet people’s needs.

“By using this technology to work together more closely, hospitals, local authorities and care homes can ensure that people get the right care in the right place at the right time, and aren’t left waiting in hospital unnecessarily.

“Working with our local government, hospitals and community services as well as patients and their families has been essential to developing this new approach and will be key to rolling it out everywhere.”

Across the NHS, 14 Integrated Care Systems (ICS) and Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships are seeing the NHS and local government work even more closely to join up care and support across general practices, community services, hospitals, councils, voluntary and community organisations and charities.

As well as offering improved care for patients and care home residents, the new initiative links health and social care professionals more closely and reduces wasted time and resources.

Glen Garrod, President of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS), said: “We know that for the vast majority of people, they are most comfortable staying in their own homes in their local communities for as long as possible, so every effort should be made to keep people well and where it’s possible and safe, to prevent the need to be admitted to hospital, or indeed a residential setting, in the first place.

“However, if people do need to go to hospital then health and social care must work together to support people through their period in hospital, and on discharge to help them return home where ever that is possible. We must think ‘home first’. If after a thorough discussion with the person and their family, it is decided that going home is not an option and residential care home is required then it is important we work together, with individuals and their families, to support them to make an informed choice based upon the information and advice provided.”

The Capacity Tracker provides a ‘shop window’ for care homes across the country to share their vacancies as well as other important information about the care home, to enable an informed choice to be made. It can be accessed on any device and improves the efficiency of discharge teams because they do not need to make numerous phone calls to homes.

If care homes need help, a team of dedicated people provide telephone support for registration and uploading information.

The North of England Commissioning Support Unit, funded by NHS England, developed the tracker, and led the pilot. Care homes, local authority, CCG and hospital staff were involved in creating the system, and Care Home Champions are being regularly encouraged to give feedback to improve and spread its use