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Sutton's Red Bag - a simple change packing a difference

A Sutton scheme to help people living in care homes receive quick and effective treatment if they need to go into hospital in an emergency is to be rolled out across England.

As part of the Hospital Transfer Pathway, care home residents in Sutton that need to go to hospital have a pre-packed 'Red Bag' containing a list of medical and personal information, as well as personal items such as dentures, glasses, hearing aids and a change of clothes for when they return to the care home.

The red bags are given to ambulance crews and travel with patients to hospital where they are handed to the doctor so clinicians have all the information they need to treat the patient.

Since being launched by NHS Sutton Clinical Commissioning Group three years ago, the scheme has reduced hospital stays by three to four days, stopped patients losing personal items such as dentures, glasses and hearing aids, and improved communication between care home and hospital staff saving time, resources and duplication.

Following its success in Sutton, the scheme has been already introduced in other areas and now all areas of the country are being urged to adopt the scheme with a toolkit launched today by NHS England to help.

As well as giving reassurance to patients, the red bags provide hospital staff with quick, up-to-date information and medication requirements for the patient, avoiding unnecessary phone calls.

Several representatives from the Vanguard programme attended the launch at the House of Commons on Tuesday 12 June: Viccie Nelson, former programme director for the Vanguard, Christine Harger, former Quality Assurance manager in the Vanguard, Mary Hopper, Director of Quality Sutton CCG and former SRO for the programme, Dr Nivi Singh, Orthogeriatrician at St Helier Hospital, Sarah Stacey, Manager at Crossways Nursing Home and Nursing Home rep during the programme, Debbie Lindon-Taylor, Divisional Director of Nursing at Sutton Community Services during the programme

Caroline Dinenage MP, Minister of State for Health and Social Care opened the launch, which was attended by many ministers, MPs and representatives including Maggie Throup MP, Parliamentary Private Secretary to Health and Social Care Ministers and Paul Scully, MP for Sutton and Cheam.

Clare O'Sullivan, a Sutton GP and clinical lead at NHS Sutton Clinical Commissioning Group which introduced the scheme in Sutton, said:  "We have seen first-hand the difference the Red Bag scheme is making to the lives of residents in Sutton care homes and we're delighted that it is now being rolled out across the country. Sutton care homes as well as Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust, Sutton Community Health Services and the London Ambulance Service really came together with us to make the Red Bag scheme a success and this partnership working has improved care for some of our most vulnerable residents.  Simple measures like including consent to speak to care home staff or sharing residents' wishes and preferences for their future care make a huge impact to the resident and the care they receive."

Eothen Care Home in Sutton was the very first to use the red bag for one of their residents.

Kim Kerwood, Manager at Eothen said: "The red bag is a simple idea that makes a big difference. On the day it was launched, one of our residents fell and we suspected that sadly he might have a fracture. We got the red bag ready and completed the forms for the ambulance crew and hospital staff. The resident and red bag went off to hospital and to our delight two weeks later he returned home fit and well and, importantly, with the red bag complete with a discharge letter and medication. The scheme is a great step forward in the care we provide for our residents."

Sarah Blow, Senior Responsible Officer for South West London Health and Care Partnership said: "We're incredibly proud of the work being done to improve the health of older people in Sutton by bringing together health and social care providers. Having seen the benefits to patients, we have already rolled out the red bag scheme in other boroughs in south west London, so we're delighted that this will become a national scheme."

Professor Oliver Shanley OBE, Regional Chief Nurse (London Region) said: "This is an example of how the NHS is integrating care, working in partnership with social care, to create a seamless pathway for patients so they only have to tell their story once.

"The scheme has not only led to a wide range of benefits for hospitals and care home staff but most importantly, it's seen improvements for patients who can go to the hospital with everything they need."

Professor Nick Harding, NHS England senior medical adviser, said: "This is an example of where a joined up approach is helping to improve patient care and speed up a stay in hospital for all the right reasons. Sometimes it's the personal touch that makes a big difference to patients, especially if they're elderly, and the red bag helps people feel reassured and more at home. Doing more of the obvious is key to improving all our experiences of care."

Since starting in Sutton, South West London, the initiative has seen uptake in other areas following its success; around 50% of Health and Wellbeing Boards report they have started the scheme in their area and 90% say they have an aim to roll it out next year.

Jason Morris, clinical team leader, London Ambulance Service, St Helier area, said: "The great thing about the red bag is that, put simply, the service is just more patient focussed.  Because the paperwork is standardised for every patient the handover to the ambulance crew is much more efficient. The Red Bag has really helped improved our patients' experience of being taken to hospital in an emergency, something that everyone involved in this initiative should be really proud of.

Maria Paterson, adult protection specialist nurse at Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust, said: "Having vital information readily available in one eye-catching place will save time at each stage of the patient's care, allowing staff to make more informed decisions. It helps avoid all the confusing phone calls that can happen with care home patients who may have a complex medical history because everything is there in the bag."

The red bag stays with the patient whilst they are in hospital. When they are ready to go home, a copy of their discharge summary (which details every aspect of the care they received in hospital) will be placed in the red bag so that care home staff have access to this important information when their residents' arrive back home. 

The Red Bag also clearly identifies a patient as being a care home resident and this means that it may be possible for the patient to be discharged sooner, because the care home has been involved in discussions with the hospital and has an understanding of the residents care needs so they are able to support the resident when they are discharged.


Notes to editor:

  • Red Bag information video
  • The Red bag from the patient's perspective 
  • The Red Bag initiative was developed by the Sutton Homes of Care project, part of the national Vanguard programme (an NHS England New Care Models programme), to improve care in residential and nursing homes. NHS Sutton Clinical Commissioning Group (Sutton CCG) is a newly-appointed Vanguard site.
  • The Red Bag initiative is led by Sutton CCG and developed in partnership with clinicians from Epsom and St Helier University hospitals, Sutton Community Health Services, London Ambulance Service and representatives of the care homes. 
  • For more information on the Vanguard programme visit