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Nurses held back by poor IT and lack of support, RCN report finds

Nurses think technology could improve health and care services, but are held back by barriers such as inadequate IT systems, a lack of support and digital skills

Nurses see a single IT system across health and social care as the utopia, but said there are significant barriers to good use of technology, according to a Royal College of Nursing (RCN) report.

The report, which is the result of a consultation with nearly 900 contributors, found that nurses want to be digitally enabled but are held back by poor IT systems.  

It highlighted that there seems to be a gap between the digital innovations often touted by NHS leaders and the experiences nurses have with technology in their day-to-day working lives.

“The gap we see in this consultation, between the lack of adequate technology and the types of technological innovations introduced in health and social care, suggests that priorities are misaligned,” the report said.

“Many of the barriers that nurses and midwives experience are mundane from a technological point of view: difficulties with passwords, inadequate computers, lack of support and even overly complicated systems should be within the gift of any IT department to address.”

Most of the nurses contributing to the consultation agreed that a single, common system for across the NHS would make it “much easier for nursing and medical staff to make decisions on a person’s health if there was one system that every trust could access showing a full patient journey”.

“The vision of a single system across health and social care may be utopian, but its underlying principles are critical to any potential solutions: interoperability, a shared common language and access to information to support decision making. These may require political will to resolve at a national level,” the report added.  

Digital skills and support

The report is part of the RCN’s digital nursing campaign, aiming to make every nurse in the UK an e-nurse” by 2020.

In 2016, the RCN congress launched its e-nurse target, aiming to grasp the opportunities digital can bring through involving nurses and midwives in the design and implementation of technology, the use of data, and better access to skills training and education. 

Although nurses overall are positive towards digital technologies, there is often a lack of skills, as well as support. The report said there is often a mismatch of cultural differences between clinical staff and those implementing IT, and that the voices of nurses are not prioritised in digital leadership.

“Some commented on a lack of confidence among nursing and midwifery staff about their digital competencies, highlighting the role that digital technologies are playing in people’s lives outside work, and suggesting that this can be a useful testing ground for people’s general skills development and confidence building,” the report said.

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The issues raised in the RCN report are very similar to those found in the Queen’s Institute of Nursing’s report, published in April 2018.  

The institute’s report on nursing in a digital age was based on a survey of more than 500 community nurses, and found that while most are positive towards digital, there are still huge barriers in place.

One of the key issues, also present in the RCN report, is the lack of interoperability, which is not limited to community settings, but widespread across the NHS.

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