Digital version of hugely successful Red Bag scheme sees hospital stays for care home residents cut by four days in pilot

The pilot of a digital version of a scheme to ensure smoother transfers in and out of hospital for care home residents saw the length of each stay drop by four days and 35% fewer readmissions.

Devised in Sutton, the original Red Bag scheme sees essentials such as key paperwork, medication and personal items like glasses, toiletries and clothes packed into a red bag and given to ambulance crews to hand to doctors.

The Sutton initiative, which was held up as a good example of how the NHS is working in partnership with social care so patients only have to tell their story once, proved so successful that it was rolled out nationally in 2018.

The following year the digital equivalent was piloted with people’s key information transferred electronically and securely from care homes to hospital staff in an emergency.

The eRedBag includes information such as the patient’s personal details, GP, NHS number and next of kin as well as symptoms, concerns and actions taken by care home. It also includes the patient’s medical history, current medication and vital signs observations plus other important details such as current pressure sores, and mobility, Covid-19 and vaccine status.

Analysis involving the four care homes in the pilot in 2019 and 2020 – covering 191 beds – revealed that each resident spent four days less in hospital as a result of using the eRed bag.

It also showed a:

  • 28% fall in emergency admissions to hospital
  • 12% reduction in ambulance journeys to hospital
  • 24% drop in A&E visits. 

In addition, patients had a better hospital experience while care home and hospital staff spent less time on administration, meaning more was available to spend caring.

Since the pilot, which took place near the start of the pandemic, the eRed Bag has been rolled out to a further 15 care homes covering over 830 beds – many more are set to join soon – and the impact will continue to be monitored closely to check for differences since the end of restrictions.

Dr Vasa Gnanapragasam (pictured), local GP and south west London’s lead for care homes, said: “This is another great example of how local health and social care services can work in partnership to improve care for patients – building on Sutton’s original Red Bag idea that was so successful it was adopted nationally.

“Not only does it help care home residents have an even smoother transfer to and from hospital, it quickly gives hospital staff the personal and clinical information they need to make better informed decisions about the best way to care for people and, most importantly, it leads to a much better experience for some of the most vulnerable people in our area.”

Sutton Council’s Acting Head of Commissioning Katie Johnstone said: “Our Red Bag scheme was a simple idea that has made a big difference both in Sutton and across the country and the digital version is having a similar impact. It means that our residents receive better, safer, more integrated care from their care homes and health services.”

Belmont Nursing Home Registered Manager Arthur Tanare said: “For the hospital staff to provide good care, they need to know the residents – like what is safe food for them to eat, preferred drinks to give – and while they are in hospital between two to four days they will be bored there, because it’s a hospital, so with the information they have on their likes and dislikes and the activities they like to do, it’s all indicated there on the eRedBag. 

“So, the staff in the hospital can even see they like for example to watch BBC or listen to the radio, so there is a benefit both psychologically and physically for our residents. So, the discharge from hospital is shorter because they recover faster.”

Marie Bannister, Registered Manager at Sutton Court Care Centre, said of the benefits of the eRed Bag scheme: “I think it’s the quality of care – there aren’t any missing gaps for the hospital or anyone – and to know we’re working as a team. 

“Everybody can give the care that the person deserves. It’s a reassurance for the family as well because they feel comfortable that the information is secure with data protection.”

More information can be found at Implementing the eRedBag Pathway – Health Innovation Network.