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NHS staff face too much bureaucracy

Unnecessary box-ticking could distract staff from patient care

Louise Prime

Thursday, 24 January 2013

NHS staff are spending time completing unnecessary box-ticking and form-filling exercises that would be better spent on patient care, reports the NHS Confederation. It is urging the Government to act swiftly to tackle the burden of bureaucracy, to “free up staff resources and money for frontline services”.

The NHS Information Centre found in 2011 that the Department of Health and related bodies required 305 data collections of NHS organisations, and estimated that scrapping some could save £66m and reduce the data burdens on NHS organisations by 15%. But its recommendations still haven’t been implemented.

The NHS Confederation says in its own latest review, Information overload: Tackling bureaucracy in the NHS: “Our members are often asked for unnecessary information, to give the same information multiple times, or asked to gather data in poorly designed and cumbersome formats.”

It points out that while in recent years the number of NHS administrative staff has fallen by 10% and the number of managers by 18%, the requests made to organisations to provide information may not have fallen accordingly. It claims that an increasing bureaucratic burden “could increase the risk of distracting staff time away from patient care, an issue likely to be highlighted in the imminent Francis report on Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust”.

The Confederation warns: “There is a risk that the complex structure of the new NHS and the increased number of organisations will add to the administrative burden on NHS organisations.”

It is calling for leadership and action from Government ministers to help reduce unnecessary bureaucracy, restricting the information that NHS organisations must provide to “what is necessary to support the delivery of high-quality patient care and to drive improvements in services” and to reassure the public that they are providing compassionate patient care. It is also concerned that any new data collections generated by a potential new inspection regime should be added only if they add real value – and then reductions in administrative burden must be made elsewhere to compensate.

Mike Farrar, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “NHS organisations have a responsibility to provide the right information so they are accountable to patients and taxpayers. But we need to strike the right balance of providing information which allows patients to have a clear picture of the standards of care, without spending a disproportionate amount of time providing the same information to numerous organisations in different ways.

“We are concerned that patient care could be affected because organisations and staff are distracted by the burdens of administrative requests from external organisations.

“Our members have told us that this is a growing problem for them. We will be working with them in the coming months to help them address this issue and feed back their concerns and proposals to the Government and other relevant bodies.”

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