Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust has been shortlisted for Nursing Times Awards 2020 in two categories: Nursing in Mental Health and Technology and Data in Nursing. The trust’s entry, A better night’s sleep: a novel approach to nursing observations at night shines a light on the Digital Care Assistant (DCA), which enables staff to gather observations from mental health inpatients without waking them at night.

Developed in collaboration with Oxehealth, an Oxford University spin-out, the DCA observation technology was launched last summer on the acute inpatient Vaughan Thomas Ward at Warneford Hospital, Oxford. Modern matron Carol Gee, lead research nurse Andrew Wood, consultant psychiatrist and lead of the project, Dr Alvaro Barrera, as well as professor John Geddes, head of the Oxford University Department of Psychiatry, have led the Vaughan Thomas ward team on this exciting development for patients’ care. 

While supportive observations every hour, or in some cases every 15 minutes, are necessary for patient care and safety, they can be highly disruptive and distressing, especially when patients are trying to sleep. The DCA allows staff to carry out the observations without causing sleep disruption. Using infrared illumination and an optical sensor, the DCA’s Vital Signs module measures a patient’s pulse and breathing rate using small changes in skin colour and chest movements. Staff can spot-check the patient without entering the room or requiring physical contact of any kind.

Modern matron Carol Gee said: “Vaughan Thomas is the first inpatient acute unit within Oxford Health to develop and have a specialist research nurse role. The aim of the role is to combine clinical leadership and research within the acute inpatient setting. This is a specialised hybrid role which over-arches two very distant specialties to perform both clinical duties and a research role. Andrew Wood has fulfilled this new and innovative role to the highest standard and was able to quickly and effectively engage patients, their families and colleagues in successfully implementing the project.”

She added: “Introducing such technology to general adult acute psychiatric wards faced many practical and clinical challenges, including patients’ characteristics, such as their level of acuity, legal status, risks, capacity to consent and clinical governance,  and also the environment of wards, which is highly changeable and based in a grade 2 listed building. It has also required a high level of staff engagement and training to promote the use of the technology.”

Debbie Richards, Managing Director of Mental Health Services at Oxford Health, said: “I am delighted that this innovative project has been recognised again. A system that enhances patient safety and reduces sleep disruption can have a transformative impact on patient experience and recovery. Moreover, this project demonstrates how patient care can benefit from collaboration between the NHS, academic research and industry.”

Charlotte Wood, Director, Mental Health, at Oxehealth commented: “We are pleased that our partnership with Oxford Health has been recognised with these two nominations. Our collaboration with the team at Oxford Health continues to help improve the safety and quality of care, whilst also enhancing patient experience. We look forward to continuing and growing our collaboration with Oxford Health in the future.”

In 2019, DCA was named the regional winner for South East in the NHS Parliamentary Awards in the Future NHS category. In the picture above, Andrew Wood, Carol Gee and Alvaro Barrera are celebrating at these awards.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Nursing Times Awards, as well as the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife. The awards recognise those making nursing an innovative, patient-focused and inclusive profession in every setting across the UK. The winners will be revealed on Wednesday, October 14.

Read also: New technology changes the face of patient care at Oxford Health