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”
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.