Posted on: 13 August 2020

NHS staff are essential for compassionate care but we can use technology to make care safer, with staff better informed about a patient and families more confident that their loved ones are still cared for when staff can’t be there – like at night.

We’re trialling a Digital Care Assistant (DCA) which uses an optical sensor to support staff when monitoring patients in bedrooms.

It means staff can take contact-free vital sign checks without entering the room, whilst a person is asleep. It also provides real time alerts to potential harm, like someone falling.

We’re really pleased to be working with Oxehealth, who created and developed the DCA. Oxehealth are an Oxford University established company that partners with the NHS to improve inpatient care.

The DCA has been highlighted as an example of outstanding practice by NHS watchdogs.

It uses an optical sensor and infrared illumination (in a secure housing) to monitor a patient in a room. It detects movement and vital signs, checks pulse and breathing rates. There is no device connected to the patient and the technology works in total darkness.

Two recent reports showed a 48% reduction in falls at night; and better sleep as staff don’t disturb patients at night. Patients feel safer, sleep better, and have more privacy but their health is kept under close digital observation.

This is what the sensor unit looks like – which will be fitted in every room – and we stress that there are no CCTV, just sensors.

We will trial the DCA at 3 Beatrice Place (for Older Adults in Kensington) and Northwick Park Mental Health Centre (Harrow) in the autumn – sensors installed in September and working from October.

We will install in Milton Keynes, Park Royal, St Charles and Hillingdon, later in the year to go live in January 2021.

We’ll consider extending to all other inpatients sites after that.

Staff will be trained and there will be full explanations to patients and families at every location about how it works – emphasising that it monitors movement and enables staff to take remote, contact free vital signs observations  without comprising privacy.

There will be sessions to ask questions and people’s opinions will be collected throughout.

Maria O’Brien, Chief Nurse at CNWL, chairs the implementation group.

Maria said, “Modern mental health hospitals have single ensuite rooms for privacy, dignity and better health. But staff need to know what’s happening to a patient whilst alone in a room or whilst a patient is sleeping. The Digital Care Assistant improves alertness and that means safety improves.”

“It does not replace any staff but makes staff more informed to respond when they need to.”

“The way the system works ensures that privacy and dignity are maintained and we will be collecting views about it too. Hospitals should be the safest environments and we think this is a good move to make; better safety.”