Ground-breaking research study has potential to transform care on hospital wards across UK

The Research and Development team at University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust (UHMBT) is hosting the first UK study of new technology designed to revolutionise care on hospital wards.

A new thermal sensor-based alarm system has been developed to enable ward staff to identify patients who could be in imminent danger of falling from hospital beds and injuring themselves.

SAFE (System to Avoid Falls Events) has been developed by Lancaster-based firm Rinicare, a former subsidiary of Rinicom, as an early warning system for wards which have a high number of patients at risk of falls and bone fractures.

It is the only study of its kind in Britain and could lead to greatly improved care of frail and vulnerable patients.

Six SAFE devices are being tested on Ward 20 at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary (RLI) to see if the system can reduce falls and improve patient care. Ward 20 was selected for the study as the staff look after patients who are particularly frail.

In the SAFE research study, each bed on the ward appears as a coloured icon on a mobile smart device and the icon will flash and emit an alarm if a patient starts moving towards the edges of the bed or attempts to leave the bed. The icons also appear on a screen at the nurses’ desk so that staff can keep track of their patients.

The SAFE technology aims to be a huge improvement on the current technology used to prevent falls on hospital wards. Currently, pressure sensitive mats with alarms are used but they can disturb patients and cause a great deal of unwanted noise in clinical areas.

Søren Udby, Project Manager for Rinicare, said: “Falls prevention is a massive challenge across the NHS. All sorts of measures have been tried but our SAFE technology is completely new in this area.”

“Falls mats can cause ‘false alarms’ and they can go off if someone is just moving or sitting up in bed. SAFE can help patients with dementia, delirium and other conditions.”

“I thought – what if we can develop a device that can keep track of a patient 24/7 in a non-invasive way? What if we could create a device to give staff a notification that a patient is about to fall or leave the bed?”

“We wouldn’t want to put CCTV up for data protection and practical reasons so we have decided to use a thermal sensor instead of an optical camera.”

“The SAFE device is small and inconspicuous. It doesn’t have lights, it doesn’t make sounds and there are no moving parts so patients shouldn’t even notice it is there.”

“The SAFE sensor analyses the thermal outline of a person, known as a ‘heat blob’, relative to the edges of the bed. This provides absolute privacy for the patients as no personal or medical information is collected by the system.”

“Even if a fall can’t be prevented, the nursing staff can get to the patient sooner. Time is often of the essence in such cases.”

The SAFE system checks the position of the patients once every second and relays the current status to the screen at the nurses’ desk.

Each bed has a number and appears as an icon on the screen. It enables ward staff to prioritise cases by keeping a log of any incidents.

Søren explained: “When a patient is in bed and not moving the icon will be green but if they start moving towards the side of the bed it will go to amber. If they leave the bed the alert will turn red.”

“Technically, SAFE can manage about 100 hundred beds per computer server. The study received ethical approval to trial six devices in the ward.”

“We are doing the study to see how accurate it is in a real-life situation with patients on a busy ward. As sleep is hugely important to people with dementia, the fact that SAFE does not disturb patients is hugely beneficial.”

“The system can also interpret anomalies including when children are visiting or staff are working. It operates on a ‘closed loop’ system which can’t be ‘hacked’ remotely so it is extremely secure.”

Søren said the study will last for a year and will be concluded in April of 2020. During the first six months SAFE will run in ‘passive mode’ and for the rest of the time it will be fully operational. This is so that the study can look at what it was like before and after SAFE was installed.