Want to improve the NHS with IT? If you’re not talking to nurses you’ll fail, says RCN

‘The digital transformation of health care will remain a pipe-dream unless nurses are involved,’ warns big health union

Posted 17 July 2018 by Gary Flood

NHS digital transformation just won’t happen unless nurses are more involved.

That’s the stark warning from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), which says that says that until the NHS takes full advantage of the expertise and views of nurses – the largest single staff group in the health service – “it won’t be able to realise all the benefits digital technology can bring for patients and staff”.

“In the past few weeks, leading up to the 70th anniversary of the NHS, we’ve heard a succession of health care leaders arguing that the best way to transform health care in the UK is to utilise the full benefits of digital technology,” pointed out the union’s eHealth lead, Ross Scrivener, last week.

But data from a recent RCN consultation process with around 900 of its members earlier this year revealed, she stated, “that aim will remain a pipe-dream unless managers, technology providers and IT staff take more account of the views of nurses”.

“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,” she added.

“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.”

The Royal College of Nursing’s call to involve nurses in the digital transformation of healthcare at every opportunity was welcomed by NHS Digital – the national information and technology partner to the health and social care system which is using digital technology to transform the NHS and social care.

Commenting on the union’s warning, that body’s Senior Clinical Lead and nurse, Caron Swinscoe, says she supports the idea: “It is absolutely right that nurses’ views and expertise should be listened to and taken on board for all the benefits of digital technology to be realised when treating patients. Understanding how work is done rather than how work is imagined to be done is vital.”

In an online response to the RCN, Swinscoe goes on to note that “people on the frontline” such as nurses need technology to work as effectively as possible, whether they are in a hospital or caring for someone in their home, and that the only way to ensure this happens is to involve the teams who do the work day by day “in the design, development and implementation of digital health technology”.

As a result, she agrees, “Every nurse and midwife has something to contribute to the debate” and that NHS Digital is as a result “committed to involving nurses and midwives in the work they do”.

“We have nurses with backgrounds in all areas of care supporting our programmes, informing the way we do things and helping to build strong links with frontline staff,” she says, as, “It’s the only way we can ensure digital health is relevant, effective and useful in the real world.

“Nurses will always need to give hands-on-care, and embracing new technology means they have more time to do just that.”

The Royal College of Nursing describes itself as the world’s largest nursing union and professional body, representing more than 435,000 nurses, student nurses, midwives and health care assistants in the UK and internationally.