NHS England has ordered hospital trusts to move to electronic bed tracking before winter, claiming “walking around wards” searching for empty beds was contributing to urgent care delays.

A letter, for NHS England’s urgent and emergency care director Pauline Philip, obtained by HSJ, was sent to all NHS CCGs and acute trust chief executive on Wednesday.

The letter stated that trusts wasted too much time last winter manually tracking empty beds.

“You will remember the work generated last year by our difficulty in establishing how many beds were open and occupied,” the letter said.

“In too many hospitals bed managers are not using technology to manage beds and rely instead on telephone calls or walking around wards to find empty beds, meaning that patients wait for extended periods in emergency departments.”

Ms Philip said ahead of next winter all acute trusts would be expected to track bed occupancy electronically and in real-time through their patient administration system, including admissions, discharges and internal patient transfers.

”In order to reduce the burden of reporting and, more importantly to support good bed management, we need every hospital to keep their PAS up to date in real time.”

This direction is one of the steps being taken to achieve NHS England’s wider ambition to free up 4000 beds this year, primarily through a 25 per cent reduction in long stay patients this year.

It also follows concerns raised by NHS England information and operations director Matthew Swindells last month, in which he singled out a handful of trust for failing to properly use “bog standard” IT.

At the time, Mr Swindells said failures to use and extract data from the patients administration systems, e-rostering and other basic IT systems were undermining the case to the Treasury for more IT funding.