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New study will assess the legacy of ‘productive ward’


Researchers from King’s College London are to assess the impact of a major nursing initiative over the last 10 years in English hospitals.

The “productive ward” programme was intended to increase the proportion of time nurses spent on direct patient care, and improve experience for staff and patients.

It was also intended to make structural changes to the use of ward spaces to improve efficiency in terms of time, effort and money.

“There is little robust evidence as to its impact and whether there have been any lasting legacies for frontline healthcare staff, patients and carers”

Glenn Robert

The high-profile programme was largely welcomed as a positive move when it was first introduced nearly a decade ago, but there has been little hard evidence on its subsequent impact on staff or patient care.

The researchers will survey all 160 NHS acute hospitals in England to find out whether they are currently, or have previously, used the initiative, how they have used it and whether it worked well.

The work will update a previous study carried out in 2009.

The productive ward programme was developed in 2006-08 by the former NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement, with backing from the Department of Health.

It was developed to empower ward teams to identify areas for improvement. The idea was to give nursing staff the information and time they needed to better control of their ward environment.

In May 2008, the government invested £50m to support the dissemination and implementation of the programme across England.

The investment was based on evidence from early test sites, widespread commitment from nursing leaders and suggestions of what the programme might help to achieve.

Glenn Robert, professor of healthcare quality and innovation, has received a £316,995 grant from the National Institute for Health Research to carry out the new study.

Professor Robert will lead a research team from King’s, Southampton University and the University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust.

He said: “The productive ward focuses on improving ward environments to help nurses spend more time on patient care and to improve levels of safety and efficiency. 

“It was first tried in the NHS in 2006 and most hospitals in England have now used this approach to try to make some or all of their wards work better,” he said.

“However, there is little robust evidence as to its impact and whether there have been any lasting legacies for frontline healthcare staff, patients and carers,” noted Professor Robert.

He said the new study would also look at whether varying points of adopting the programme over the last decade and differing local approaches to implementing it had affected its impact or legacy – for example, on developing nursing leadership.

“Our findings will provide important lessons for those who have already implemented the productive ward and those who are planning to do so in the future,” said Professor Robert.

“In addition, the study will explore any wider, unanticipated benefits of implementing the programme that have been unstudied to date,” he added.

The research will start in January 2016 and will take an estimated 30 months to complete.


Readers' comments (5)

  • During the project we called it the "UNproductive ward project" because it took us away from care into stock management, tidying etc.

    In fairness there were some positive outcomes and it forced middle management to allow staff with ideas to enact their ideas. But it seemed to involve a lot of work for little outcome.

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  • My ward suffered shortage of dressings and equipment as a productive ward meant labels on shelves and very little on the shelves I spent time tidying up cupboards instead of looking after patients

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  • Glenn Robert

    I'm the researcher leading the study referred to in the article - we'd welcome any reflections on the direct/indirect benefits for nurses & patients of the Productive Ward programme. One of the things we are interested in is exactly the type of 'looking back' comment above (whether they are positive or less so) - the programme started with some pilots in 2005/6 so it's been around for almost a decade and lots of Trusts have implemented it on their wards; must be lots of people with personal views ...

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  • me thinks Lean rhymes with spleen for good reason.

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  • Glenn the opposite of positive is negative. lol

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