More than one-third of nurses spend at least an hour finding items of equipment during an average hospital shift, according to a survey by Nursing Times.
On average a further hour is spent helping other wards locate items, according to the online survey of around 1,000 nurses carried out jointly with GS1 UK, a not-for-profit body that helped introduce barcoding technology into the NHS.
The findings suggested that nurses could spend the equivalent of 40 hours per month searching for equipment.
In 16% of cases, respondents said that they had given up such a search during the past six months after failing to find a piece of equipment.
In the majority of situations, nurses were looking for devices or consumables. The items most often sought were pumps, drip stands, thermometers, keys and mattresses.
‘Some days it feels like I spend all day looking for things,’ said one respondent. Another said: ‘This is a major problem, my pet peeve.’
These findings come in spite of the continuing rollout of the Productive Ward scheme, which is intended to improve efficiency through simple innovations such as clearer labelling and ensuring equipment is where staff could expect to find it.
Although the Productive Ward has been judged largely as a major success since its introduction in January last year, nearly 80% of nurses in the survey said their ward had yet to sign up to it.
Additionally, it is exactly two years since the Department of Health issued policy to trusts on introducing barcode technology.
Initial work focused on adding barcodes to patient wristbands, medicines and surgical instrument sets to reduce errors and improve patient safety.
According to GS1, barcodes could also be routinely attached to bundles of dressings, which would allow a nurse to use a ward computer to quickly locate where the items are stored and in what quantity.
Larger, more mobile items, such as drip stands, could be tracked using ‘talking tags’ - which transmit signals that can be picked up electronically to indicate location.
A mere 1% of respondents said they were able to look for items with such technology. The survey suggested that the majority of nurses would welcome its introduction.
Nine out of ten respondents said they would be prepared to use a ward-based computer to locate items and scan barcoded items in and out of the ward.
‘This survey supports our own understanding that nursing staff will use technology if it frees up more time to dedicate to patient care,’ said Gary Lynch, chief executive of GS1 UK.
Related article: Checking equipment
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