Deb Sutton, VP, Client Support, TeleTracking International
Global economic and political turmoil and the climate change crisis may dominate headlines but arguably the biggest threat to global wellbeing is the state of our health care services. In the UK, 9.2% of all NHS posts are vacant, while the World Health Organisation estimates that, globally, the shortfall of healthcare workers is predicted to hit 18 million by 2030.
In his latest book, global healthcare leader Dr. Mark Britnell has suggested ten changes required to address the global health worker crisis, one of which is creating a managed and motivated workforce. This point is fundamental: while many countries are working to encourage more people into the workforce, we know that training these individuals takes years. To address the current decline in existing clinical staff, health services need to act now to address, for instance, the fact that 76% of doctors and 79% of nurses perform tasks for which they are overqualified and in far too many cases, such work is not even clinical.
Clinical staff across the board want to care. Far too many, however, are forced to prioritise admin. Nurses, for example, are continually dragged away from patients to respond to phone calls regarding current and likely bed availability. When hospitals are in crisis, senior nursing teams can meet up to five times a day, for 60-90 minutes each time, discussing patient discharges and bed management, meaning up to 7.5 hours a day is spent on administration rather than care. No wonder one of the main staff complaints is a lack of time to engage with patients.
Under current bed management models, patients are allocated to the first available bed. Cardiac patients end up in orthopaedic wards, patients with respiratory disorders in geriatric wards. This leads to huge frustration for nursing staff who are often not using their hard earned specialist skills and, even worse, forced to care for patients with complex demands for which they have not trained. It also affects a multitude of clinical staff: from consultants to physiotherapists and pharmacists, far too many highly skilled, time poor individuals embark upon the daily Safari round to find patients who have been placed in the wrong ward simply to hit ED targets.
To avoid the burnout and stress that is contributing to so many experienced clinical professionals leaving the health service, it is essential to release individuals from these tasks and reprioritise time to care. Individuals need to be at the top of their game, not continuously working at the edge of their capacity.
It is 100% possible to radically improve the day to day experience for clinicians – especially nurses – by improving the bed management process using proven technology. Radio Frequency ID (RFID) badging with a centralised, co-ordinated bed management system, provides a single source of accurate, up to date information regarding patient location – and bed availability. There is no need to phone each ward in turn – immediately reducing the noise on the wards and freeing up nurses to prioritise patient care.
Indeed, the entire process can be better managed – from ordering porters to collecting patients to ensuring bed cleaners are on hand to clean and prepare the bed for the next patient, significantly reducing turnaround time. Using this system, Trusts have reported an additional 250 hours a week of nursing time released from admin tasks back to care – hours that can transform not only the patient experience but critically nurse morale and job satisfaction.
The implications of the global crisis in health workers cannot be ignored – and each winter the issues for our front-line healthcare providers become ever more challenging. Clearly this crisis cannot be solved just by improving bed management – but better bed management requires a relatively simple change that can deliver quantifiable benefits very quickly.
Yes, there are huge opportunities to explore digital technologies throughout healthcare, from AI led diagnostics onwards. But today’s priority has to be staff retention and that means removing admin tasks and ensuring staff can truly utilise their clinical skills. By making this change today, hospitals will not only improve morale and enhance patient care but also have the chance to put essential longer term plans into action.