The company said: “The government has made clear that it is doing everything possible to increase the number of beds available for patients. However, while many hospitals have made space and moved records off site, many still have huge medical libraries holding physical patient records, often in rooms right in the medical heart of the building.”
Restore has calculated that the average space taken up by records per Trust is 1667 m2 – rising to as much as 6,500 m2 for the biggest hospitals.
Stefan Chetty, director of Public Sector Services at the business (pictured), says ‘space could be better used – especially with the NHS is under so much pressure from all angles’.
He explained: “Nobody is pretending a solution is simple, but part of the answer is right in the middle of hospitals, where the medical library, full of physical patient records, takes up valuable clinical space. Our research shows this could be used for 100 beds on average, and far more in many bigger Trusts. Multiply that by our sample of 136 Trusts (not including ambulance, mental health and community health Trusts, which hold far smaller medical libraries), and it’s a huge number of beds. In fact, those figures are based on the space required for one-bed rooms with a generous floor area of around 16 m2. So, the figure could be much higher if beds were configured in wards.”
The company acknowledges that the issue around bed availability is ‘complicated, sensitive, and political’, and thus requires a multi-faceted approach It said: “However, moving physical records off site can free up space for the long term, and be the first step to digitisation. With the right systems implemented, records can be easily located and quickly retrieved. A number of hospitals have already begun their digital journey, embracing digital patient records, but physical health record libraries remain common.”
Some early ‘digital adopters’ chose to scan records to be viewed on digital PDFs. Although Restore dubs this ‘a good start’, is says it ‘didn’t work well for long-form documents’, with many clinicians still preferring physical files. “Having records on site is seen by hospitals as a benefit, but in fact it can be as much of a curse as a blessing,” said Stefan Chetty.
“The departments that manage requests for files are often understaffed, making tracking records is difficult. They can end up in drawers all over the hospital, with no record that they have even been taken. Consequently, duplicates are created – adding to the library. It’s far better to store them off site with the ability to track records and have them delivered quickly on demand – with the most regularly-requested records scanned.
“A hybrid system like this is often the most cost-effective option – as we have seen with Trusts that have adopted it. It may be the way forward for many more NHS Trusts, especially when balanced with a secure destruction policy for records which no longer have to be kept. Good records management can help Trusts focus on patient care – and if that means more beds, or more space between beds, it is good for everyone.”