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Input from nursing staff needed to make progress in in digital healthcare, RCN says

Input from nursing staff needed to make progress in in digital healthcare, RCN says

Nurse - Image credit: PA Images

Health and social care services will not be able to fully benefit from digital technology unless they listen to the expertise of nursing staff, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has warned.

Almost 900 nurses, midwives, students and health care support workers took part in an online consultation earlier this year on what is needed for nursing to play its part in the digital transformation of healthcare.

Over 100 more attended five in-depth focus groups across the UK. 

Participants were asked to describe their vision of the digital future, outline any barriers they were experiencing and list any initiatives they knew of that are making a difference.  

Among the positive examples given were mobile systems that allow nurses to input patients’ vital signs such as heart rate and blood pressure, and which then alert them to any deterioration; 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 such as diabetes or COPD to relay data to nurses.

But in contrast to this vision of how the future could look, significant numbers of contributors cited issues including out of date IT systems and programmes designed without any input from nursing staff. 

Commenting on the findings of the consultation, 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 health and social care services 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 nursing staff.

“The responses to our survey reveal some depressingly mundane barriers to nurses’ full participation in digital transformation, from wifi that doesn’t work to computers that take too long to log on. 

“But the single most important theme to emerge from the consultation is that involving nursing 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.”

Ellen Hudson, Associate Director, RCN Scotland, added: “The Scottish Government’s digital strategy launched earlier this year recognises the need to invest and develop digital capability.

“We now need to see that translated into resources on the ground and a clear role for nursing leadership in developing the digital health agenda.

“Nursing teams 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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