A patients’ campaign group has criticised the increasing use of “do not disturb” tabards by nurses as a method of reducing medication errors during drug rounds.
The tabards and other distinctive clothing are used in a number of hospitals during drug rounds to reduce the risk of interruption from staff and patients, which can lead to medication errors such as the wrong dose being given or a patient getting medicine intended for another patient.
East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust is the latest to introduce them, but has been criticised for doing so by charities in the national media.
Speaking to Nursing Times, Joyce Robins, from Patients Concern, said the tabards sent out completely the wrong message to patients.
“It looks as if you’re saying, even if it’s not what you intended, don’t bother me – I’m too important. There is a bit of a feeling that nursing isn’t as caring as it used to be and things like this add to that,” she said.
“Many patients are very intimidated by being in hospital and maybe this is the first nurse you have seen for hours so you’re going to try and push your concerns.”
Ms Robbins suggested nurses could carry out a ward round ahead of the drug round to deal with any other requests from patients and so avoid subsequent interruptions.
However, senior nurses said the tabards could potentially help nurses, as long as they were part of wider measures that included having sufficient staff on the ward at the right time.
National Patient Safety Agency director of patient safety Suzette Woodward, herself a nurse, said evidence that tabards had a major impact on reducing interruptions was currently “not convincing”, but she said this did not mean it was the wrong solution.
She added: “The wearing of tabards needs to be seen as part of the bigger picture. They should be supported by regular nurse rounds for patients… and reviews of breaks to ensure that there are enough nurses other than the nurse doing the drug round available to help patients and other colleagues at these specific times.”
Royal College of Nursing chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter agreed staffing levels were crucial. He said: “Medication rounds can be complex and we would support measures which ensure that staff are able to concentrate when carrying out this task on a busy ward.
“However, let us be very clear: schemes like this must never become a cheaper substitute for having enough fully trained staff on every ward,” he said.
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