With the NHS under immense pressure, bed stocks are infamously limited. However, this pressure shows no signs of slowing – and the number of beds across the NHS shows no sign of growing in a way that’s substantially impactful. What other approaches can we take to address this major challenge and, crucially, how can technology help?
From healthcare professionals to the general public, most of us are intimately familiar with the continued lack of beds in our healthcare system. Even pre-pandemic, few health experts felt we were well equipped with beds and ample resources. Now, the BMA continue to stress the severity of this problem: data from December 2022 reports occupancy rates consistently exceeding safe levels and call capacity a ‘critical limiting factor’ for the NHS.
Beyond those early adopter areas like radiology and pathology, speech recognition technology has the potential to reduce costs across entire Trusts – potentially freeing up resources to invest in new ways to grow capacity and bring occupancy down to reasonable levels.
The impact of DTOC on bed capacity
Recently, in our previous blog post, we wrote about the significant challenge of Delayed Transfers of Care (DTOCs) – those periods when a patient is ready to be discharged from an acute care bed but remains in the bed regardless. Typical bottlenecks and obstacles to discharge/transfer include:
- Awaiting completion of assessment, including incomplete documentation
- Awaiting care packages
- Awaiting nursing home placement
- Awaiting community equipment and adaptations
- Awaiting further non-acute NHS care
- Awaiting care packages in own home
- Disputes and legal challenges
Across all these areas, faster documentation and reporting time can help keep people moving along the patient journey. If not, DTOC dramatically worsens the problem of poor bed stocks and low capacity.
Every day a patient stays in an acute care bed unnecessarily, beds remain unavailable to those who need them. While this is obviously a barrier to delivering timely, effective treatment and care, it also creates unnecessary cost.
The costs of a widespread bed shortage
Bed shortages, driven by needlessly extended hospital stays and DTOCs, lead to significant costs to the NHS. This is a wasted expense that does nothing to improve patient journeys, experiences, and outcomes.
In February 2020, DTOC metrics reported by the GSS show on average 5370 people were delayed per day. The actual cost of these delays is significant by any measure. According to Age UK, in 2019, the cost of a DTOC bed per day was £346. whereas Department of Health figures from 2017 put the cost at £400 per day. Even if we assume the NHS’ own £350/day cost was accurate in February 2020, this means that month’s cost for 155,700 days was over a staggering £54 million.
An effective, accurate speech recognition technology like Augnito can reduce this cost and deliver a considerable saving by enabling clinicians and healthcare professionals to work and report more efficiently, removing some of the above mentioned common obstacles to prompt discharge or transfer. And the cost of adopting Augnito is significantly less than the cost of adding and maintaining more beds.
Repurposing even just 5% of February 2020’s estimated DTOC cost into Augnito licences could empower tens of thousands of clinicians to work more efficiently, reduce reporting time, and focus their energy on patients. Even a seemingly small 1% efficiency gain could dramatically improve both staff workloads and, more importantly, patient journeys overall.
Addressing the consistent fall in NHS beds
Over the past three decades, the total number of NHS hospital beds in England has more than halved. In part, this reflects changes to the ways patients are treated and is a trend we can see reflected in other advanced healthcare systems. For example, an increase in day surgery and long-term policies to move patients into care in the community have partly driven this ongoing reduction in capacity.
Of course, we all know that demand hasn’t followed this proposed downward trajectory. While the number of beds may have decreased, the number of patients treated has continued to rise sharply. Today, the UK has fewer acute beds relative to its population than most other European countries.
Worse, the longer-term outlook is bleak. The Health Foundation’s REAL Centre analysed bed stocks against best-case demand and found a significant gap. According to the report, 35% more beds will be required by 2030 – even if NHS initiatives to reduce hospital stay durations succeed. Apply the estimated DTOC rates we’ve shown above and the cost skyrockets.
The impact of speech recognition on efficiency and cost
As the NHS has consistently found for more than three decades, expanding bed stocks isn’t a simple task. Capacity is a complex issue and, as demand continues to surge, occupancy rates of 99% and above aren’t likely to improve without significant change.
It’s not that technology like Augnito AI powered speech recognition can solve the DTOC challenge overnight. It’s that incremental improvements to the way healthcare professionals work, collaborate, and share information creates consistent improvements over time. Eliminating the slow reporting and typing into cumbersome, often outdated systems saves time, reduces costs, and enables budgets to be repurposed into wider, systemic changes.
Augnito is already used widely across healthcare, helping those in diagnostic and reporting roles capture clinical data quickly, securely, accurately, and more cost-effectively. Crucially, Augnito’s flexible licensing means it’s available to Trusts for a fraction of the cost of adding capacity or keeping patients in beds for longer than they need them.
For Trusts, this creates time and money savings with a compound effect. The ease of implementing Augnito across multiple individuals, departments and parts of the patient journey means even small efficiency gains for healthcare professionals create a significant, meaningful saving overall. The facts speak for themselves: the cost of a single extra bed per day is close to if not 10 times more than the cost of a single Augnito licence for a month.
See how you could save time and money
Augnito is already quietly and positively impacting the patient journey and the continuum of care in primary and secondary care. Talk to us to find out more or request an evaluation version / Augnito app to see how it could help you.