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Digital transformation of health must involve nurse input

Report reveals out-dated and inadequate IT systems

Jo Carlowe

Monday, 09 July 2018

The digital transformation of healthcare will remain a pipe-dream without the involvement of nurses.

This is the message from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) as it launches the results of a consultation with nurses and midwives on the digital future of the NHS.

Almost 900 nurses and midwives took part in the online consultation earlier this year, with over 100 more attending five in-depth focus groups held by the College across the four countries of the UK.

Participants were invited to describe their vision of the digital future, outline any barriers they were experiencing to making that vision a reality, and list any specific initiatives they knew of or had been involved in that are making a difference.

The College is today presenting the findings to leaders from organisations including NHS Improvement, Health Education England and the Council of Deans of Health at a round-table event.

Positive findings from the consultation were the articulation of what the report calls a “clear and compelling vision” of a health and social care system that makes services more efficient for patients and staff.

Contributors also gave examples of digital technology already in use at some hospitals and community trusts including mobile systems that allow nurses and other clinicians to input patients’ vital signs, and which then alert them to any deterioration that might indicate conditions like sepsis; digital networks that link up community staff such as district nurses while out in the field; and apps that allow patients with long-term conditions to relay data to nurses.

However, significant numbers of contributors cited what the report described as “depressingly mundane” barriers to the full use of digital tools to help patients and transform healthcare. Common themes that emerged include:

  • Out of date and inadequate IT systems
  • Programmes and systems designed without any nursing input
  • Lack of staff
  • Lack of health informatics training in nursing degree courses.
Commenting on the findings, Ross Scrivener, eHealth lead at the RCN, said: “In the past few weeks leading up to the 70th anniversary of the NHS, we’ve heard a succession of healthcare leaders arguing that the best way to transform healthcare in the UK is to utilise the full benefits of digital technology. But our consultation shows that that aim will remain a pipe-dream unless managers, technology providers and IT staff take more account of the views of nurses, the biggest staff group in the health service.

“The responses to our survey reveal some depressingly mundane barriers to nurses’ full participation in digital transformation, from wi-fi that doesn’t work, to computers that take too long to log on, interference from medical equipment and outdated operating systems like Windows 7.”

He added: “But the single most important theme to emerge from the consultation is that involving nurses in the design and implementation of programmes and systems to improve patient care is not an optional add-on – it is absolutely vital if those systems are going to provide the benefits they’re supposed to. The NHS and healthcare generally need to do much more to develop and nurture nurse leadership of the digital agenda.

“Nurses see very clearly the potential of technology to transform their and patients’ lives, and want to play their full part – but that won’t happen until their views are listened to."

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