Nurses back NHS IT plan despite lack of consultation

Most nurses support NHS plans to spend billions of pounds on new national IT systems, but fewer than 10% say that consultation...

Most nurses support NHS plans to spend billions of pounds on new national IT systems, but fewer than 10% say that consultation with them over proposals for electronic health records has been adequate.

The lack of consultation - which was highlighted in the biggest ever survey of nurses on the subject of technology - is of concern to the Royal College of Nursing (RCN). It points out that major contracts have already been awarded to IT suppliers in England for national systems. The first of these, to support the electronic booking of hospital appointments, is due to go live this summer.

In a separate survey of doctors, carried out by market researcher Medix earlier this year, only 4% said that consultation with them had been adequate.

Securing the buy-in of doctors and nurses to the national programme is seen by IT managers in the NHS as the biggest challenge to the success of the initiative.

Medix's sister company Nursix, which conducted the latest survey on behalf of the RCN, said that nurses are the largest group of front-line clinicians and will be the most affected by the introduction of the new systems.

More than 2,000 nurses, midwives and health visitors took part in the survey.

About 90% rated as very or fairly important the need for individual practising clinicians to be consulted about integrated electronic health care records. 

But 63% said they had not been consulted, and a further 27% said consultation had been inadequate or barely adequate.

Seventy per cent believed that electronic health care records development would improve clinical care.

Alison Kitson, executive director nursing at the RCN, said the survey showed that nurses can see huge improvements in patient care with the introduction of electronic systems.

"So far, the majority of our members have not been consulted, which in a context where contracts have already been awarded to IT providers in England, is problematic," she said.

"The RCN wants to see the best use made of nurses' understanding of clinical processes so that the new systems succeed in delivering direct benefits to health care."

A spokesman for the national programme for IT in the NHS said, "To date, the national programme has been presented to circa 200 senior nurses and shared information and discussions with them about the programme and the role nurses can play in the onward development of the programme.

"As the programme moves forwards into the implementation phase, with work focused at the local level, there will be an increasing call for input from nurses at all grades to help mould the future of our working practices in healthcare as we see the benefits of the new IT systems."

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