West Suffolk Hospital is beta testing a new Windows software package for planning and monitoring bed use.

Developed by suppliers RKW and IMS, Winbed tracks the status of inpatients and predicts the availability of beds of each type.

Twice a day, ward nurses update Winbed with the expected discharge time for each patient in the hospital's 630 beds.

This is linked to demographic data automatically drawn from the hospital's hospital information support system.

Reasons for delayed discharge are also recorded. The bed manager can then call up a real-time map of how many beds are due to be vacant, where they are, and for which sex. This helps the trust ease bed shortages, for instance by asking GPs to defer admissions for a few days, said trust operations director Amanda Skull.

Traditionally, bed managers walked around the wards with a clipboard, keeping handwritten records of each bed, but could not easily get an overall picture.

'We had hoped our HISS would solve our bed problems, but it doesn't show where the vacant beds are, or their sex, ' said Ms Skull.

The package also produces retrospective reports showing the major causes of unnecessary delayed discharges, so that managers can attempt to unplug the bottlenecks.

The next stage, says Ms Skull, is to introduce 'care pathways' in which each patient is given a disease code at admission.

Two other trusts - North Staffordshire and Huddersfield - are shadowing the Suffolk trials.

The package is commercially available now from IMS, but will be formally launched in July.