The newly appointed Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock says he’s “determined to seize the opportunities of the modern age” and has pledged almost half a billion pounds to transform technology in the NHS to ease pressures on staff and improve patient care.
Findings from an RCN consultation show that members support this vision. They too want to see the health and social care system benefit from digital tools and systems, but in practice there are numerous barriers.
Nursing input is key
A major problem highlighted in the RCN findings is that programmes and systems are being designed without nursing input.
One participant said: “Decision-makers often don’t know the extent of our work and have never walked in our shoes, yet they make decisions on our behalf and bring in systems for us to use.”
Another noted that money is often spent on the wrong things and this could be avoided if nursing staff were involved in decision-making.
Decision-makers often don’t know the extent of our work and have never walked in our shoes, yet they make decisions on our behalf
Many people emphasised the positive impact for patients when nurses are supported to take leadership roles in projects centred on data, information, knowledge and technology improvements.
Ross Scrivener, eHealth lead at the RCN, says: “Involving nursing staff in the design and implementation of programmes and systems to improve patient care is not an optional add-on – it is absolutely vital.
“The NHS and health care generally need to do much more to develop and nurture nurse leadership of the digital agenda.”
The consultation also found that nursing staff are struggling with out-of-date computers and inadequate systems, and a lack of staff is having a huge impact.
One participant pointed out: “The biggest barrier to any system, be it electronic or paperbased, is chronic understaffing.
"If staff haven’t time to take a break or use the bathroom and are struggling to deliver patient care, they will find it difficult to engage with and learn new systems.”
Nursing staff 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
The RCN launched its findings at an event attended by digital experts and nurse leaders from organisations including NHS Improvement, Health Education England and the Council of Deans of Health.
Discussions focused on identifying specific areas where improvements could be made including refining and promoting the role of digital nurse leaders, better training for staff and students, and partnership working with nursing staff, employers, the technology industry and the Government to determine how funding can be best-used.
Ross says: “Nursing staff 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.”
Find out more
Join the RCN eHealth Forum to find out more about the digital future of nursing and to get involved in work in this area.