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​​​The Red Bag: Improving life for care home residents
A small change making a big difference

Sutton Homes of Care has launched a brilliantly simple initiative to help people living in Sutton care homes receive quick and effective treatment should they need to go into hospital in an emergency.

The "Red Bag" keeps important information about a care home resident's health in one place, easily accessible to ambulance and hospital staff. It has been developed in partnership with Epsom and St Helier Hospital Trust, Sutton and Merton Community Services, London Ambulance Service and staff from Sutton care homes.

The Red Bag contains standardised information about the resident's general health, any existing medical conditions they have, medication they are taking, as well as highlighting the current health concern.  This means that ambulance and hospital staff can determine the treatment a resident needs more effectively.

It also has room for personal belongings (such as clothes for day of discharge, glasses, hearing aid, dentures etc) and it stays with the patient whilst they are in hospital. When patients 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.

Eothen Care Home in Sutton was the first to use the Red Bag for one of their residents. Kim Kerwood, Eothen Care Home Manager 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.

"We have had two more residents go to hospital with the red bag and the process has gone just as smoothly both times.  It's early days, but the communication around residents' hospital transfer process has been excellent with everyone involved working together.  For us it's satisfying that we now have a voice and are listened to and for our patient's it means that they get the care they need quickly and more efficiently.

"The Red Bag scheme is a great step forward in the care we provide for our residents."

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 process of transferring patients from the care home to hospital is faster, and when patients arrive in hospital they received the care they need much quicker.  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, Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust said: "We were involved in the Red Bag initiative from its conception, and we welcome the positive impact it will have on patient safety. 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 about the person they are caring for.

"Communication between care home staff and trust staff has improved greatly because of the Red Bag and we now have a better understanding of each other's roles in the care of vulnerable patients."


Notes to editor:

  • The Red Bag initiative has been 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 and Merton Community Services, London Ambulance Service and representatives of the care homes. 
  • For more information on the Vanguard programme visit