Initiative signals the beginning of closer working between the health and social care sectors

The ‘red bag’ initiative has been introduced by a London borough and another five ‘vanguard’ areas in England who have been exploring new ways to make better use of their funds. The initiative applies to the transfer of service users between hospital and the care home setting.  It hopes to give the NHS and the social care sector the opportunity to work much more closely together and reduce the time taken looking for vital information such as patient medical history therefore improving and speeding up transfers.

Some commentators say that this initiative has been introduced following the NHS turning its back on the care sector and caring for older people in particular.  Previous repeated calls for the joining-up of the health and social care sectors seemed to have failed to gather enough steam to deliver on this ambition.

The initiative is quite simple in its concept; it involves packing a red bag with information about medical details; health conditions; and a change of clothes. The initiative also ensures a member of care home staff visits the patient in hospital within 48 hours of admission helping doctors, and nurses treat patients more efficiently.  The initiative allows older people to spend much less time in hospital – on average eight days instead of 12 – which is beneficial medically and emotionally for the patient.  This also has the added benefit of being helpful to the health service through a reduction in bed blocking time and to the care service as they will have knowledge of the symptoms and medical history of the patient in advance of the time of admission/ readmission.

The initiative has also led to healthcare professionals adopting a co-operative approach when treating the elderly; with doctors providing regular half-yearly healthcare check-ups in care homes, pharmacists conducting medicine usage reviews, and district nurses providing training to care home staff in dementia, falls and diabetes.

This combined effort has led to an impressive 10% drop in visits to A&E, a vast improvement after the CQC had previously found that a number of care homes it asked had not received regular visits from GPs. However, care home managers have had to pay GPs to secure regular visits with reports stating some GP’s have been costing as much as £20,000 a year.

Recently, the government has also been encouraging the merge of the health and social care sectors for example by setting up the shared pot – called the Better Care Fund. However, the funding this initiative receives is worth less than 5% of the combined health and care budgets.  Therefore, a merger of the sectors is likely to be quite far in the future. Initiatives such as the ‘red bag’ project suggests that a more interconnected way of working across the respective NHS and social care sectors might not require vast injections of capital but rather a change in mindset to working together for the benefit of the end service users.

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