NHS IT can't keep up with health service demands, survey of staff finds

Sarah Johnson
‘Staff described how it can take up to 10 minutes to log on to a computer.’ Photograph: Photofusion/REX

Six out of 10 healthcare professionals believe that NHS IT systems are not fit for purpose, according to survey findings that also show better systems would improve patient care.

A Guardian Healthcare Network survey found that less than a quarter of workers thought health service IT was appropriate for the demands the NHS faces. Only 3% of the 1,016 healthcare professionals who responded strongly agreed that computer systems were adequate.

“The IT systems compromise patient safety without a doubt ... ” said one junior doctor. “[NHS IT] is the most frustrating aspect of my job by far. It is not fit for purpose and a facet of the job my colleagues and I grapple with on a daily basis.”

A hospital manager wrote: “I work in NHS IT. A lack of investment leaves us walking a tightrope above a pit of major systems failure.”

It’s an absolute nightmare. I often waste valuable time just trying to get computers and printers to work

Junior doctor

Another respondent, who works in health informatics, admitted that inefficient IT lets the health service down. They said: “Our systems are disjointed and do not talk to one another. System reliability is another issue. IT could be good and a huge advantage, but why do we just never get it right?”

Many respondents to the self-selecting survey, which was open to NHS workers earlier this year, felt that IT held them back in their jobs. Half of NHS workers said better systems would help them to be able to provide better patient care.

A number of professionals who took the survey outlined some of the practical challenges staff face every day. One nurse who works in community services said: “I work remotely with a laptop that consistently loses mobile signal, I regularly waste significant periods of the day on the telephone to the IT department in order to resolve issues that I come across.”

Clinicians described how it can take up to 10 minutes to log on to a computer, a task that has to be done several times a day. Simple actions such as looking something up on the internet, printing labels or ordering scans take up a “ridiculous” amount of time which could be spent looking after patients.

A junior doctor wrote: “It’s an absolute nightmare. I often waste valuable time just trying to get computers and printers to work, or the right blood form to print out – and it has delayed me in providing care to patients.”

Another hospital worker added that there wasn’t time to get training on how to use available technology properly because the ward is so short-staffed – and all their time is taken up looking after patients.

Harpreet Sood, associate chief clinical information officer at NHS England, said in response to the findings: “Digital and IT offer great potential to improve patient care, which is why the NHS is investing £4.2bn across a number of projects, from cyber security to online services for patients; from training more NHS digital leaders to helping a group of acute, mental health and ambulance trusts became world leaders in the use of technology.”

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