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Capacity Tracker: reshaping the way we manage care home capacity

Wednesday 22nd January 2020

Capacity Tracker: reshaping the way we manage care home capacity

In September last year, health and care professionals from across the NHS joined us at NHS Expo for two days of industry leading insight, keynote talks and more. As part of the annual event, we showcased our award-winning Capacity Tracker digital application that’s been developed in partnership with NHS England, local authorities and care home providers to help hospitals, social care and people needing a placement to make better and more-informed care home choices.

In this blog we’ll look at why the digital tool has been introduced, how it’s supporting partnerships between health and social care, and the benefits for individuals/patients and NHS/Local Authority discharge teams and care home staff.

Why was the Capacity Tracker introduced?

The previous arrangements used in many areas to manage and communicate care home vacancies were time consuming, inefficient and increased the risk of wrong patient outcomes.

With the introduction of the Capacity Tracker, finding the right care home placement is far quicker and much easier than ever before. Those time consuming ring-arounds to care homes are now a thing of the past, allowing busy frontline staff to spend more time doing what they do best – delivering care.

As well as reducing avoidable delayed transfers of care and long length of stay, the application recognises the increasingly complex needs of the individual, and how they can be best addressed and supported at the most appropriate location. Capacity Tracker acknowledges the fact that health and social care services all use the same care homes, and sharing information creates efficiencies and greater partnership working for everyone involved.

It’s fair to say that more than ever before, patients, families, councils and NHS Trusts have the relevant data and information at their disposal to make much more informed decisions. Ultimately that can only be a good thing for patients, as, if they need a care home, they look to find one that truly suits their needs based on location, affordability and service quality.

There’s also the added benefit a much simplified process can have on reducing stress and anxiety for the individual and their families; especially at a time when they’re in need of care and support and they are unable to return home.

The strength of working together at a local level
The idea of sharing care home vacancies is not something new. In fact ever since the first care homes were set up, people have been writing down their capacity, making weekly ring-arounds and having local meetings. Some of those methods have stood the test of time others have fallen by the wayside. But the introduction of Capacity Tracker brings an all new, sophisticated system that’s the most comprehensive and extensive yet.

As with any change involving introduction of technology, a key ingredient for success is working together at a local level and developing a mutual understanding and respect for each other’s existing ways of working and challenges whether that be councils, the NHS or care home providers educating all stakeholders involved in the discharge of people as to how the technology can add value to them and make their lives easier is key, as is ensuring the transition away from the old outdated legacy arrangements.

We’ve found in many cases that where each stakeholder does their part in terms of embedding the capacity tracker the real benefits are realized

This means discharge teams only using Capacity Tracker to find vacancies and when they do eventually contact the care home, reinforcing with them that they found the vacancy by searching the Capacity Tracker. This reinforces in the mind of the care home managers that it’s worthwhile regularly updating the Capacity Tracker with their vacancies so that discharge teams can rely on the information they provide. As confidence grows that all stakeholders are using the one single system to search and promote vacancies it will eventually become business as usual and the old legacy arrangements can then be completely switched off.

This approach brings added confidence and stability across the care home sector and increases efficiency of all involved in that discharge process, not least of all the individual who is supported to leave hospital as quickly as possible.

Finding a home that’s right for the individual
Capacity Tracker goes much further than simply finding a care home placement. It’s about finding the best possible home, based on location, affordability and service quality that provides all the necessary therapy and support that’s needed, and there’s a genuine care and commitment from system leaders for that to be the case as well.

Head of Care and Health Improvement at Local Government Association, Andrew Hughes said: “We’re very keen to see a Capacity Tracker that’s not there for moving people to a care home as the first and default option, but to looking at what is the best place for an individual. Capacity Tracker helps create the right opportunities to have those conversations locally about the best place, systems and support.”

Instant data that facilitates conversations
While Capacity Tracker provides the latest care home vacancies in just a few clicks, it’s never going to fully replace the conversations and relationships than need to exist when finding the ideal care home. We know that each vacancy might not be the right vacancy but, what the Capacity Tracker does provide is a chance to quickly understand what vacancies are available at a time when all staff are busy and facing pressures.

Just like Trusts, the same past inefficiencies have hampered social care teams, with endless phone calls to care homes leading to time-consuming toeing and froing. Now, Capacity Tracker helps provide that key information much quicker and facilitates more informed conversations that can start much further down-the-line.

John Skidmore, Director of Adult Social Services at East Riding of Yorkshire Council said: “We’ve got 139 residential care homes in the East Riding, 129 of them are on Capacity Tracker with 70% updating their vacancies and information every week.”

“It stops people having to ring up – it’s that initial look and awareness about what capacity’s available that may meet someone’s needs. It doesn’t avoid the phone call to follow up, but it’s just that initial view and understanding that helps busy care homes and social workers.”

Lizzie Hancock is Managing Director of Fulford Nursing Home in York, she believes both the real-time and communication aspect of Capacity Tracker is invaluable: “We had a vacancy come up one Friday afternoon. I was nipping to the supermarket, got in my car, got my mobile phone and updated our vacancies via the browser.  It took me just 15 seconds to update. Next thing I’m speaking to the discharge hub at York, discussing what the bed was and that started the conversation. It’s the simplest tool I’ve ever worked with, that solves my biggest problem.”

Bringing control and efficiency to trusts
For NHS Trusts, Capacity Tracker supports discharge hubs to work much more collaboratively and in sync. In turn this reduces the workload on busy healthcare staff, who in the past have relied on regular ring-arounds to find out care home vacancies and types.

Capacity Tracker speeds up this process by bringing teams closer together and helping to enable the all-important communication and understanding that makes finding the ideal care simple.

In addition, for professionals looking to find a care home that’s both suitable and closer to the individual’s own home, the application allows nationwide search beyond the local region.

Mandy Griffin, Managing Director, Digital Health, The Health Informatics Service, Calderdale & Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust said: “A patient needed to be placed in Southport, which is outside our Trust area. Capacity Tracker allowed us to search and narrow down the care homes that would provide the right care, to just three. That patient was then placed within two days; before Capacity Tracker that would have taken a lot longer to do. And it’s not just the people we look after  that benefit from such in-depth search and increased communication, the Trust’s workforce themselves also feel more in control and like they can really make a difference.”

Easing winter pressures
Capacity Tracker helps alleviate some of the pressures facing A&E departments at this busy time of year. With the help of Capacity Tracker, discharge teams can ease the strain on hospital bed availability; just as one discharge team in the North East did last week.

Made up of social workers, nurses and support staff, the team helped a number of individuals who needed a care home placement to leave hospital by setting up care packages that brought together social care, intermediate care and community support — with Capacity Tracker being a key tool in helping them achieve this efficiently and effectively. .

Supporting care homes
We’ve got to know how Capacity Tracker benefits those within the NHS and social care, but what about care homes?

Many care homes run on tight margins, where very high levels of occupancy are required for the business to work as a whole. Capacity Tracker provides a virtual shop window to share vacancies in real-time and to those directly on the look-out, right across England.

The application’s ability to showcase short stay vacancies, as well as longer term placements, means care homes can also support the discharge system in a different way; for people who need that bit more support before going home, for example teams can quickly search for care homes offering intermediate care, discharge to assess, rehabilitation, reablement or respite.

Lizzie Hancock, Managing Director, Fulford Nursing Home, York: “In the last nine months I’ve seen our occupancy improve consistently which I believe Capacity Tracker has directly helped. We don’t take every enquiry – it’s not about filling beds, it’s about putting the right person in the right place. Our occupancy has risen to 96%. In fact in August it was 98% which in the last quarter has actually brought in additional income which we’ve equally invested in the home and the staff  as I’m confident that it shows we can improve, and it puts me on to a different journey about culture, vision statements and values.”

Continuous improvement and development
To keep up with demands and changing technologies, we’re continually developing Capacity Tracker to meet the needs of health care, social care and patients/residents.

We supplement CQC quality ratings with more contemporary local council audits in many areas and we also recently enabled discharge teams to rapidly search for care homes with vacancies for short stay as well as long term placements.

An example of this can be seen from one NHS trust in the Midlands, where the discharge team puts together packages for both short-term and long-term social care support with the help of Capacity Tracker. Following a fall and hospital attendance, the team identified short term availability for a patient whilst a stair rail was fitted at their home to aid mobility.

Capacity Tracker also supports discharge teams with identifying suitable longer term care where someone has a complex health need – such as dementia – that’s unlikely to improve in the weeks after discharge.

There are lots more developments which we are planning on rolling out early next year.

If you work for the NHS, a local authority or in a care home and want to find out more about Capacity Tracker and how it can help you, please contact necsu.capacitytracker@nhs.net or for more information visit the Capacity Tracker Website here: Capacity Tracker Website