Nurses unconvinced by NHS e-records plan

Over half of nurses do not believe the National Health Service (NHS) will manage to deliver an electronic patient records (EPR) system in the near future, according to a survey by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).

An electronic patient record system called Spine is one of several projects being rolled out - with varying levels of success - as part of the NHS' 12 billion national programme for IT (NPfIT). A successful rollout would move patients' records off paper and onto a UK-wide digital system.

While two-thirds of the 2,600 nurses surveyed said would like to see an EPR system, they disagree on the benefits it could bring. While half said they thought digitised records would help improve patient safety, just a third thought the security would not be any better than paper records.

"This survey shows that progress on IT has been made in some areas and it is positive to see that, despite some adverse coverage in the media, nurses on the whole remain supportive of the concept of an electronic record," said the RCN's general secretary Dr Peter Carter.

The survey also found that two-thirds of nurses said they had not been consulted about the system or the information to be inputted into it.

"If electronic patient records are to be introduced in the right way with staff fully engaged and involved, the health service has to get to grips with this problem before it is too late," said Dr Carter.

The RCN survey also showed that two-thirds of nurses have not had IT training in the past six months, adding to nurses' reluctance to use computers, Carter said. "We know from anecdotal evidence that some nurses are uncomfortable and perhaps even reluctant to use computers. This problem is perpetuated by there not being enough machines in clinical settings and not enough staff on the wards and in the community to provide cover for those who need to be released for support and training."

Half of respondents said they share their work computer with over five people, while 16 per cent share with over 20 people - something Dr Carter said must change before the ERP is rolled out.

"This survey shows IT training programmes for health service staff and the number of computers available for them to use will have to be expanded on a significant scale in the next two to three years if electronic records are going to support and not hinder clinical care," he said. "We cannot have a situation where nursing staff are waiting in line with 20 or more people for time on a computer to carry out essential documentation. Equally, we cannot have a system that is dependent on so few computers to facilitate care."