A digital tool is being introduced to allow health and social care staff to see how many vacancies there are in local care homes to help reduce avoidable stays in hospital.
The Capacity Tracker is being rolled out to homes, councils and hospitals by NHS England as part of its long-term plan for the health service.
More than 6,250 care homes have signed up to the system, piloted in the North, Devon and Berkshire last year.
Care home providers upload details of their available beds to the tracker, helping health and social care staff to find the right services for patients, including those with dementia or a learning disability.
The tool is available on any device and saves time phoning homes to check availability and helping people to get the right care as quickly as possible.
In 2018, around 250,000 hospital bed days in England were taken up by people who were well enough to be discharged but faced delays in finding an appropriate care home that could meet their recovery needs.
The NHS, working with councils, reduced the number of lost bed days by 20% between 2017 and 2018.
Ruth May, chief nursing officer for England, said: ‘By using this technology to work together more closely, hospitals, local authorities and care homes can ensure that people get the right care in the right place at the right time, and aren’t left waiting in hospital unnecessarily.
‘Working with our local government, hospitals and community services as well as patients and their families has been essential to developing this new approach and will be key to rolling it out everywhere.’
Glen Garrod, president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, said most people wanted to stay in their own homes for as long as possible and that every effort should be made to prevent admission to hospital or a residential setting.
‘However, if people do need to go to hospital then health and social care must work together to support people through their period in hospital, and on discharge to help them return home wherever that is possible,’ he said.
‘We must think ‘home first’. If after a thorough discussion with the person and their family, it is decided that going home is not an option and a residential care home is required then it is important we work together, with individuals and their families, to support them to make an informed choice based upon the information and advice provided.’