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Friday 28th October 2016

Nurses lose up to one quarter of their working day hunting for medical items

12th February 2009

Over a third of the UK’s 300,000 nurses spend up to two hours on an average shift trying to locate vital medical items such as pumps, drip stands and dressings, reveals a survey of nurses commissioned by GS1 UK, the not for profit data standards organisation, and Nursing Times magazine.

This is equivalent to 40 hours per month, or a quarter of a working day spent looking for equipment that should be readily available to ensure effective patient care. It indicates that up to one week of a nurse’s salary is being wasted every month. For the NHS, this could mean that more than £900 million[1][1] of salary expenditure each year is being spent looking for medical items that could be found instantly by using technology that has been in our supermarkets for over 30 years.

Over the past six months, 16% of respondents say they have given up a search completely after being unable to find equipment either by themselves, or by asking colleagues or other wards.  Significantly, only 1% of those surveyed currently use a computer to locate items, despite the fact that it is two years since the Department of Health advised trusts to adopt the GS1 System of coding technology.

Nurses are frustrated by this and believe that simple technology, such as supermarket style bar code scanning, could ease the problem. Nine out of ten respondents said they would be prepared to use a computer to hunt down missing items if the information was accurate, with a similar amount willing to use a scanner to log items. For example, if each drip stand was bar coded they could easily be scanned in and out of a ward. Nurses could then access a shared computer to locate them at all times.

"I was working on a busy shift last Sunday. One of my patient’s dressings needed changing and I had to spend an hour looking for a new one," says Jane Smith a London-based nurse. "These kinds of things happen on a daily basis."

"Our survey proves beyond doubt that nurses have a major problem in using their time effectively and in the best interests of patients," says Gary Lynch, chief executive of GS1 UK. "It is just as clear that if hospitals took on our simple bar coding system this would remove unnecessary obstacles to patient care, as the Department of Health and nurses themselves already recognise."

"Nurses are under enough pressure caring for their patients without having to spend their valuable time looking for equipment, especially when the technology is available to locate items quickly and easily," adds Steve Ford, news editor of Nursing Times. "It is time the NHS caught up. Additionally, 57% of our respondents thought they walked more than five miles per week, that’s 260 miles per working year – much of which is probably spent on fruitless searching."


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