New mobile phone technology is helping local authorities to alleviate NHS bed blocking following trials around the country. The new technology can help speed up hospital discharges and prevent unnecessary re-admissions, freeing up vital beds and also reducing the cost of post-hospital care.

The new technology offers local authorities a way of continuing to support people in their own homes, which they say is increasingly difficult. To tackle one cause of bed blocking, in October 2016 the London Borough of Hounslow partnered with West Middlesex Hospital to help improve the quality and speed of some discharges by providing a Linkline+ Telecare kit, based around a specialist mobile device with an emergency button.

Emergency buttons are not new but traditionally they involve costly equipment installations at home, with discharges sometimes delayed days or weeks while the work is done. By contrast, at the heart of the Telecare kit is a choice of two specialist mobile devices, OwnFone and Footprint, that end the need for fixed installations. West Middlesex Hospital keeps a number of the kits to hand, with the devices already live, so discharges can happen quickly.

OwnFone is a purposefully simple, lightweight mobile phone. For the Telecare kit it is configured with an SOS button and pre-programmed with the Linkline+ emergency number. Footprint is an even smaller, lightweight, wearable GPS tracking device. It’s small enough to attach to a key ring, keeps tabs on the wearer’s location and offers an SOS button, two-way, hands-free voice communication and a fall detector.

Should calls come, Linkline+ is set up to respond round the clock, with dedicated officers highly experienced at dealing with people in crisis, providing reassurance and able to liaise with other services where needed.

OwnFone and Footprint are both the inspiration of London-based manufacturer OwnFone. Sales director Sarah Watts said: “OwnFone and Footprint are specialist devices designed for independent-living vulnerable people. OwnFone is a complete, lightweight mobile phone on which we can fully customise the display and functions, and can pre-programme numbers to call for Linkline+ users. Footprint brings the benefits of GPS tracking and two-way communications to a very small, handy, one-button device.”

“A highly unusual benefit of both devices, in addition to their design, is that they operate independently of any single UK mobile network and can freely roam between networks in search of the strongest signal, thus avoiding typical mobile network issues and giving the users peace of mind.”

Linkline+ offers its Telecare packs free of charge to Hounslow residents for the first six weeks following discharge. After initial trials, 83% of users valued the service enough to subscribe as direct clients. Meanwhile, a three-month trial of a similar service in the West Midlands town of Dudley found a reduction in the number of people being readmitted to hospital, which was not only good news for the Telecare users but represented a saving to the NHS of £600 per averted re-admission.

Sarah concluded: “Our ability to provide an instantly available, emergency contact system to patients on discharge can make a tangible difference to their lives and to the freeing up of hospital beds, which is why we’re in talks with local authorities and care providers about extending the service to many other regions of the country.”

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