Automated time-keeping systems that can involve nurses using hand scanners each time they arrive for a shift would help improve safety on the wards, as well as saving the NHS millions each year, according to a new report.
The study, published by the London School of Economics (LSE), estimates more than £71m could be saved annually by introducing automated time-keeping and eliminating payroll errors – money that could be spent on employing more nurses.
However, Tony Hockley, report co-author and a specialist in health policy analysis, told Nursing Times the main gain would be improved safety.
Without accurate information about who was actually on a shift or around at crucial hand-over times, he said it was impossible to truly understand staffing pressures and find solutions.
But he acknowledged the use of biometric systems such as hand scanners to “clock in and out” was controversial.
“It’s reminiscent of factory workers of the 1970s so asking professional groups to clock in and clock out is a huge cultural step,” he said.
“If it is seen as a way for managers to control staff I don’t think it can work but if it is perceived as a way of giving staff more control over their working day, freeing them up from paperwork so they can spend more time with patients and helping ensure a happier workforce then it can.”
Mr Hockley said his research showed while healthcare professionals such as nurses might be initially resistant and sceptical about automated time-keeping they were generally in favour once they’d seen it in action. Its introduction therefore required strong leadership from senior managers.
The report – NHS Staffing: Not Just A Number – focuses on the nursing workforce. It highlights widespread problems with the over-payment and under-payment of staff and also a lack of real-time data on staffing.
“In a safety-critical environment, where the absence of one member of staff for a matter of minutes can make a significant difference, knowing who is available in real time and having a verifiable record of staffing levels is of great value,” says the report.
It warns a failure to take “simple steps” such as moving towards digital workforce management systems is “putting safety and efficiency at serious risk”.
And it blames politicians for focusing on the introduction of electronic patient records rather than streamlining staffing processes that underpin the safe running of the NHS.
“If variations from the roster are not tracked and acted upon immediately it can leave wards short-staffed and payrolls in confusion,” says the report.
As part of the study, researchers looked at trusts that have introduced “paper-less” systems including Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals Foundation Trust, which estimated it saves £160,000 a year from a time and attendance system that uses hand scanners.
The system helped ensure more efficient deployment of permanent staff and led to significant reductions in spending on temporary nursing staff.
The £71.5m saving from the introduction of similar measures across the NHS would be on top of much bigger savings from e-rostering, now used by nearly all nursing teams, says the report.
But it stresses such innovations must go hand in hand with active analysis and workforce planning.
In the wake of the Francis report trusts are now being asked to provide monthly staffing reports.
However, Mr Hockley said this could mean increased paperwork for over-stretched nurses and the data gathered may not be much use.
“By the time data is aggregated over a month there’s no way of knowing what’s really happening or whether it’s a robust reflection of ward pressures,” he said. On the other hand automated systems could provide “minute by minute” information on staffing levels.
What do you think?
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