Hayley Boulden (Project Manager) & Terrie-Marie Scoots (Consultant), NECS Yorkshire and Humber Consultancy Team
Hayley and Terrie provide an overview of how COVID-19 has influenced the rapid growth in digital technology solutions such as the nationwide Capacity Tracker, and ask whether this would have been possible without the pandemic.
If necessity be the mother of invention, then the COVID-19 pandemic has surely given birth to a new age of digital transformation within the NHS. Like so many other IT platforms – from the explosion of video conferencing tools such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom, to the increase in popularity of mental health and mindfulness apps – the nationwide Capacity Tracker has evolved to accommodate new developments at an extraordinary pace in just a few short ‘lockdown months’.
The Capacity Tracker was developed by NECS in partnership with NHS England, local authority representatives, and care home providers. From inception, it was designed to help to improve an enduring challenge in the care sector: the difficulty of discharge teams having visibility of real time care home vacancies at a local and national level across England to optimise patient flow by minimising avoidable delayed transfers of care. This had previously resulted in time-costly processes and ‘ring-arounds’ to find suitable beds matching each patient’s needs.
One of the most common questions asked by care homes about the Capacity Tracker has been, “I’m not sure this tool is going to help me, why should I bother with it?” After supporting providers and local commissioner leads alike to utilise the tracker, our answer is, “why would you not want to use it?” The initial benefits still stand: with current funding provided by NHS England it is completely free and allows unlimited access for all providers and public sector stakeholders; it takes only a few minutes to register; and it can be quickly updated via any internet-enabled computer, mobile phone or tablet. This has enabled each provider’s vacancies and occupancy to be viewed in real time, for discharge teams to rapidly identify suitable placements to minimise the time it takes to discharge an individual, and for these teams to manage patient and family expectations regarding affordability and what options are available in any part of the country.
As part of the response to COVID-19, coverage of the tracker has grown significantly from 66% of CQC registered care homes to almost 100% of all care homes in England. In parallel, work is ongoing to increase engagement of NHS Trusts in readiness for the onset of ‘winter pressures’, and the network of registered providers has already been extended during the pandemic to include hospices, community rehabilitation providers and substance misuse providers. Simultaneously, functionality has been expanded to capture key data around the admission status, COVID-19 outbreaks as well as PPE and workforce data. With these early trigger signs at their fingertips, local authorities, CCGs and Local Resilience Forums have been able to shape their support offer where it is most needed, build new information into response planning, and continue to nurture system resilience.
Those who work with information systems in the NHS will appreciate that accessing data from a single source and in real time is not always as easy as it could be, often taking years of planning and partnership building to achieve. In contrast, the Capacity Tracker has not only created a platform for capturing the data needed for the pandemic response with multiple partners, but has achieved this within a rapid response environment. Would the tracker have been as well utilised without COVID-19? – possibly, given more time. Has COVID-19 acted as a catalyst for innovation? – almost certainly. As with other IT platforms, the speed of change has accelerated immeasurably. The pandemic has driven a sense of urgency for system adaptations to meet changing needs and expectations, and it has highlighted the importance of capturing live information in a rapidly changing world in order to manage change more effectively. This, the tracker has done, all whilst allowing the system to remain quick and simple to use.
If there can be a positive outcome from the COVID-19 pandemic, it might be the boost in partnership working and technology uptake and innovation in such a short space of time. For the Capacity Tracker, growth in users as well as a developing pipeline of ambitious enhancements (such as integrated video conferencing capability to support rapid discharge and increased productivity in the care sector) are part of the journey to improve the insight across health and social care systems.
Contact NECS Consultancy to understand how we have supported clients to think differently and develop new models of care.
For further information and a brief introduction to the Capacity Tracker from care home providers, please see: