Happy old peopleA new programme will transform the way healthcare professionals spot the early signs of illness will be rolled out across Sunderland’s care homes.

The technology, that uses universal medical assessments to track the health and wellbeing of older people in the city, is currently being used in seven of the city’s care homes. By October it is expected that all of Sunderland’s 47 homes will have adopted the technology.

The programme – which recently won a prestigious Health Service Journal Award in recognition of the team’s work to implement it – is part of the All Together Better new care model, designed to bring together health and social care for some of the most vulnerable people in the city, and is being led by NHS Sunderland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG). It has seen the NEWS (National Early Warning Score) system – which includes a medical assessment that is used by GPs, ambulance crews and hospitals to flag up potentially serious health problems added to tablet-technology that tracks and shares information about people’s health conditions with the professionals who care for them.

The newly developed system, thought to be the first of its kind in the UK, aims to prevent people’s conditions from deteriorating, ensuring that early signs are being noticed by their care team.

Rachael Forbister and Jeannie Henderson from Sunderland CCG have worked jointly to develop the NEWS system with developer Whzan, and both are now supporting with the roll-out of the programme across all care homes in the city. Rachael said: “Often older people can become quickly unwell, and despite having people around them who are monitoring them closely, without clinical evidence to back up their concerns, it can be hard for care teams to know the seriousness of the person’s condition.

“This new system means that we can track medical observations – readings like oxygen levels in the blood and blood pressure – and they can be instantly shared with a team of professionals who can quickly and decidedly intervene, armed with clinical information that is guiding their decision-making.”

The programme makes use of digital care home tablet technology, which is already being widely used in Sunderland, and allows data to be submitted to a mobile device for tracking. The data is stored and it means that health colleagues – from GPs to emergency or ambulance teams – can make assessments based on information collected over a longer period of time.

Coupled with other information, like nutrition plans and pain scores, data is pooled together to give a full overview of a person’s health at any given moment in time.

The programme is part of a wider initiative, All Together Better – one of 50 national NHS vanguards – which brings health care professionals together with their colleagues from social care, as well as local support organisations including Age UK Sunderland and the Sunderland Carer’s Centre, to deliver patient-centred care to those who need it most. The programme aims to deliver help and care to keep people out of hospital and living as independently as possible, ideally in the comfort of their home – which can include their care home.

One key aim of All Together Better is to reduce frequent hospitalisations, allowing care teams to monitor people they look after more closely, and ensure that the right support is given quickly to prevent people’s conditions from escalating.

All Together Better

Dr Tracey Lucas, CCG clinical lead on the project, said: “As part of the All Together Better programme, we are radically changing the way we deliver care to some of the frailest people in the city.

“We identified very quickly that care homes are the roof over the head of many of the most vulnerable people in Sunderland, and we know that many of those people, who have ended up in A&E with health complaints could have been safely managed at home with the right tools, training and infrastructure, ensuring the most efficient use of resources within the NHS.

“This new technology is designed to equip care teams with the tools they need to make sound decisions about whether medical attention is needed or not, and to ensure that people are getting the right care at the right time to keep them well.”

One person to benefit from the service is 90-year-old Freda Taylor, who lives in The Croft Care Home in Ettrick Grove. Freda recently had a stroke and lives with dementia, and the new system is being used to monitor her temperature, oxygen saturation levels, blood pressure, pulse and breathing, to ensure that she is well. The information is shared with her GP, who can make clinical decisions based on the information he is given.

Kathryn Dunningham, who owns and manages Croft Care Home where the system was introduced in March, said: “The initial stage will see us get a better understanding of what ‘normal’ looks like for each person who lives here, and once we have that information, this will help us back up our own judgment with clinical information that can be shared with other professionals to ensure people living here are safe and well, and are given the right level of support to enable them to live as independently as possible.”

More information about the All Together Better programme, and previous stories about how the service is helping people like Freda, can be found at www.atbsunderland.org.uk or follow @ATBSunderland on Twitter or search on Facebook.