Published: 16/01/2003, Volume II3, No. 5838 Page 13

A real-time, web-based bed management system has been deployed by the Central Southern critical care network to improve transfer procedures and ease winter pressures.

Critical care networks involve the intensive care units of five to 15 acute hospitals. They were established following the publication of Comprehensive Critical Care, a repor t from a Department of Health expert group outlining a modernisation programme for these services, and became operational earlier this year.

The networks are encouraged to implement an IT system designed to improve bed management.

But Central Southern CCN, which is the largest network in England, covering Dorchester, Poole, Bournemouth, Salisbury, Basingstoke, Winchester, Southampton, the Isle of Wight, Portsmouth and Chichester, has been considering a new system for nearly two years, following bed capacity challenges in the 2000-01 winter.

'Consultants wanted a better system, as they were having to call various wards in search of available beds, or call the emergency bed service, where the information wasn't always reliable, ' says Lisa Dawson, Central Southern CCN network manager, who is based at the Hampshire and Isle of Wight health authority.

'During the busy winter period, this not only took up a lot of their time, but it also increased risks to critical care patients.'

The network is using Winbeds Critical Care, developed by IMS Health and Ioko365. The service is accessed from ward PCs using browser technology. It is hosted over NHSnet from a secure server maintained by Ioko365 in York.

Ward staff input information about bed status and when they expect a bed to become free.The system displays wards as maps, with colourcoded beds indicating status and availability; if a bed is likely to be occupied for 48 hours, for example, it is coded blue.

CCN staff can then interrogate the system to find empty beds.The system can also tell staff when beds will become available. For instance, the nearest empty bed may be 60 miles away, but Winbeds can inform staff that a bed in a much nearer unit should become available within two hours.

'Previously, we had to make a definite decision to transfer a patient before calling the emergency bed service - and then we might have found that the nearest available bed was on the Isle ofWight, ' says Ms Dawson. 'Now we can look at the network to see where the beds are before making the decision to transfer.'

Central Southern CCN lead consultant Mick Nielsen says the real-time information provided by the system can also be used to 'trigger escalating responses to increasing bed pressures when it becomes apparent that demand is approaching or exceeding capacity'. It should also provide robust information for future planning.

Winbeds Critical Care is a simpler version of the established bed management system Winbeds Acute. It links to hospital patient administration systems, so most patient details do not have to be entered again. 'Staff simply enter information that a patient has come into the ward and is in a particular bed, ' says Adrian Roberts, technical project manager of Ioko365.

Winbeds costs approximately£3,000 per ward per year. Phil Brown, Winbeds project manager for IMS Health, says this must be weighed against the costs of transfer fees, IT beds and administration. 'In the long term, it is hoped that every network will develop a register such as this, so that a national system can be developed and the emergency bed service will no longer be necessary, ' he adds.