Capturing Bed Occupancy Data from Hospital Wards


This project aims to solve a challenging and pervasive problem in the NHS. There are around 140,000 hospital beds in the UK – but on any given day we don’t have very accurate and timely figures of how many beds are being used and therefore how many are available for admissions. 

There is a daily census, but in many organisations, this is done manually.  Staff in hospital trusts spend large amounts of time working out where and when beds will become available to calculate the balance of admissions, transfers, and discharges. 

As you can imagine efficient use of precious resources such as beds and effective patient flow is critical to the smooth running of an acute hospital and good patient outcomes.  Access to high-quality, near real-time bed occupancy data would help to ease pressure on hospitals allowing NHS Trusts to accurately forecast bed demand and quickly react to incidents.  The data would allow hospitals to reduce admission delays from A&E, ensure patients are placed on appropriate wards and reduce the likelihood of last-minute elective surgery cancellations. 

Although this problem has been with us for years, the coronavirus pandemic has brought the issue into the public consciousness, with NHS trusts being forced to cancel a vast number of elective surgeries due to lack of available beds. 

The aim is to develop a simple, low-cost solution that we can deploy across the NHS that will allow regular daily or even hourly reporting of actual bed occupancy in the NHS.  

You will work as part of a multidisciplinary team: together you will define the problem, investigate, design, test and then evaluate one or more solutions in the NHS.  You will also create the business case and marketing pitch for your solution. 

Just to be clear, we don’t currently have the answer to this problem: it might involve bar-code scanning, RFID tags or Infra Red (IR) sensors – or something else – but the solution needs to be simple, low cost and easily deployed at scale across the NHS without placing further demands on staff time. 

The project will be run by Health Data Insight CIC and we will be able to draw on close links with expert colleagues working in the NHS, NHS Digital and elsewhere. 

Bed Occupancy project overview 

This project has several components: 

  • development and evaluation of a simple and low-cost solution using existing technology, such as scanning, RFID tags, IR sensors or pressure sensors to capture bed occupancy information. 
  • exploration of ways of capturing additional information such as bed or patient location, maintenance status or expected time the bed will become available. 
  • creation of a basic data validation system when data is collected 
  • a secure method of storing and sending encrypted information to a central database, or NHS Digital where applicable, so that it can be incorporated into regular situational reports (sitreps). 
  • basic analysis and visualization of the data collected 
  • creation of a business model and prototype 
  • creation of marketing resources, such as a video demonstration. 
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