The Countess of Chester Hospital is installing a high tech tracking system so the location and status of patients, staff and equipment is known at any moment in time.

More than 4,000 infra-red sensors will be fitted above beds, doorways and even on hand gel dispensers that can read electronic chips in patient wristbands, staff security cards and tags on equipment.

This pioneering national pilot scheme – the first in the country – will be deployed at the Countess of Chester Hospital's sites in Liverpool Road, Chester, and at Ellesmere Port Hospital.

It is part of the Countess’ aspiration to be The Model Hospital based on the 2015 Lord Carter review of the NHS. The tracking system aims to free up beds by reducing length of stay per patient through improving patient flow.

But the NHS trust also claims the technology will allow NHS staff to spend 'more time with patients' by cutting the hours spent on logistics and the constant reviewing of patient notes.

The hospital is refusing to disclose the cost of the scheme on grounds of commercial confidentiality but describes it as 'a significant investment'.

The A & E department at the Countess of Chester Hospital

Countess managers acknowledge the measures will increase transparency and personal accountability in how the hospital works but have attempted to reassure staff it is not driven by a Big Brother outlook.

Each ward will have a live ‘dashboard’ displaying what is happening in every patient bay – whether the bed is empty, if the patient is due to be discharged that day or within the next 48 hours. Symbols indicate whether they have been seen by, for example, the occupational therapist or dietician as part of their discharge plan.

A timer will show when the patient was last seen by a member of staff and alerts could be set up specific to the patient so that if, for example, they were a falls risk, an on screen warning could be triggered by unexpected movement.

Staff from the Countess of Chester Maternity Services who were on duty on Christmas Day
Staff from the Countess of Chester Maternity Services who were on duty on Christmas Day

Elsewhere in the hospital there will be a central coordination point with ‘a global view of the hospital’ including access to information about bed status and the whereabouts of staff. They will see when a patient tracker has been activated by A & E staff after the person has given consent to wear the electronic wristband. They can see when a bed becomes available after a tracker is deactivated.

Support services will be automatically notified a bed needs changing. Porters will be notified a patient needs moving from one area to another. Equipment services are alerted to specific patient needs regarding hoists or bariatric chairs.

Among the other claimed benefits of the tracking system are:

■ A security system triggers an immediate alert if a vulnerable patient goes astray

■ Sensors on hand gel dispensers encourage a hand hygiene culture

■ An alarm is triggered if a colleague mistakenly walks off with keys to a drug cupboard

■ Relatives concerned about staff attentiveness can be reassured with reference to the data

■ Staff will have the option to trigger an alarm in the event of a personal safety issue

■ Keeping tabs on expensive equipment

■ Tracing key staff members during a major incident

An internal bulletin reassures staff the system is not about checking up on them. It reads: “This is about making our jobs easier, knowing where people are and working more safely.

“We are not interested in spying or snooping on colleagues at any given point in time. We trust our staff and know that our people come to work here every day for the right reasons.”

Chief executive of the Countess of Chester Hospital Tony Chambers

Work will begin on implementation in January 2017, with the first phase seeing the technology rolled out for porters and transport services.

Chief executive Tony Chambers said: “We see this as a flagship project in turning around our approach to patient flow and providing faster, safer care by increasing the responsiveness of our NHS workforce. With the visibility of this data it will put a stop to nurses wasting valuable time searching for equipment, and limit duplication of efforts in clinical admission staff repeatedly chasing updates on patient status to understand bed availability.

"The reality is that if we can reduce length of stay for each and every patient by just a few hours it gives us an additional 20 beds a day, which is much needed capacity delivered through more efficient working instead of spending.”