By Laura Donnelly, Health Editor
A hospital has become the first in the country to issue all patients with electronic tracking wristbands in a bid to monitor free beds.
The NHS trial – which may later be introduced nationally – means every consenting patient is issued with devices, picked up by 4,000 infra-red sensors across beds and doorways.
Staff will also be issued with chips, worn in their lanyards, so they can be directed to where they are needed.
Health officials said the measures will improve hospital efficiency, ensuring beds can be filled more quickly after patients are discharged.
But visitors to the hospital expressed some concern, saying that “Big Brother” style patient monitoring could leave patients feeling like they were on a conveyor belt.
The measures being piloted by the Countess of Chester Hospital NHS Trust, could be introduced nationally, depending on the results, officials say.
Under the system cleaners, porters and other staff are automatically alerted when beds become free.
Over 4,000 infra-red sensors above beds and doorways read the data chips – to record when and where staff, patients and high-value machines are located.
That enables staff in a “air traffic control-style” room to know the location and status of everyone inside the huge facility.
Initial findings show the time from a patient being discharged, to their bed being ready for a new patient, is now under 2.5 hours – down from around four hours.
Pauline Canning, 65, said: “It’s important we get people out of their beds and new people in, so patients are not being treated in corridors or things like that.
“If they can make dramatic drops in turnover times then that will make the NHS more efficient.”
But visitor Ian Dillon, 44, said: “I’m not entirely comfortable with being a patient or working here and being monitored ‘Big brother’ style like that to be honest.
“It lacks the human touch. You could feel like you are on a treatment conveyor belt or something.”
The Countess of Chester is one of four national pilot sites testing teletracking technology – but is the only one fully using the system across the entire hospital and staff.
Tony Chambers, trust chief executive said: “We are the first NHS hospital to adopt the full suite of this technology and it’s really exciting for us to be one of the first to use it in the UK.
“It’s still early in the process for us and it might take time to see the full benefits but I’m very proud of our team for being brave enough to take this on.
“I know others will soon follow our lead and it represents a significant investment in our future success as a hospital.”
Bernard Quinn, director of improvement programmes at NHS Improvement said the trust was one of four national pilots leading the way in “teletracking technology,” to ensure patients got the help they needed more quickly.
“We look forward to continuing to work with them, and sharing their lessons with the rest of the NHS,” he said.