Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust has introduced a new observation protocol for checking the safety of patients with severe mental health conditions at night, using clinically validated digital technology to enable nurses to carry out vital checks on patients without disturbing their sleep.

After a formal evaluation of technology from Oxehealth the trust has started using the Oxehealth Digital Care Assistant (DCA), which means that nurses no longer have to disturb patients up to four times an hour at night.

The technology uses an optical sensor to detect movement, pulse and breathing rate and helps nurses conduct observations more quickly but no less safely, while patients get a better night’s sleep and benefit from more privacy and dignity during their stay.

With the introduction of the DCA a survey found that 86% of patients questioned felt their privacy had improved at night, and 100% said they “felt safer” and “sleep better”.

Vanessa Odlin, Oxford Health’s joint service director for Oxfordshire, BaNES, Swindon and Wiltshire mental health, said that they have used nursing observations in mental health care for a “Long time, and we have always had to see patients in person. Now we do not have to do that.”

She continued, “The experience of people involved in this project has been absolutely, astoundingly positive. Patients have recognised that this is about getting a better night’s sleep and not having nurses disturb them at night by coming into their room or looking through a vision panel in the door.

“Nurses have seen this as a way to improve their relationship with patients and their experience of the ward. The project has also shown staff that problems can be solved. We can be innovative and use technology to deliver real benefits for patients.”

The new evaluation techniques was rolled out in to six of the 18 patient bedrooms in the Trust’s Vaughan Thomas ward, which were chosen because they are used by the most severely unwell patients who may need to be observed every 15 minutes. After careful evaluation, the new observation protocol was introduced in February 2019 and a service improvement evaluation was carried out to study its impact.

Oxford Health started working with Oxehealth after Dr Alvaro Barrera, consultant psychiatrist at the trust, led a study on the importance of sleep to recovery on Vaughan Thomas ward in 2016, backed by the Health Foundation.