A mobile “app” is set to revolutionise the collection of safe staffing data by drastically reducing the time taken to record and analyse information, according to nurses behind its development.
They say it will cut paperwork and help ensure data used to set staffing levels is up to date, reliable and easier to analyse. Their vision is for nurses to use the technology every day to provide real-time information to inform staffing rotas.
The official Safer Nursing Care Tool app will be available to all trusts free of charge from April this year, Nursing Times can reveal. The innovation has the backing of the Shelford Group of leading NHS trusts, NHS England and the Health and Social Care Information Centre.
“People have said it is fantastic and something they can do by the bedside alongside other things”
The app, designed to run on iPads, is based on the existing Safer Nursing Care Tool – itself developed by senior NHS nurses and the only such tool currently approved by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.
The concept was the brainchild of Ann Casey, assistant chief nurse at University College Hospitals London Foundation Trust, who came up with the idea after joining the trust in November 2012.
“When I arrived the Safer Nursing Care Tool was in use, but what I quickly found was that the data was really ad-hoc – there wasn’t a good, consistent flow of data and the message from the floor was ‘when we get busy, this is not a priority’,” she told Nursing Times.
She worked with IT and information experts to develop the app, which allows information about acuity and dependency to be swiftly recorded at patients’ bedsides at the touch of a screen.
As part of a pilot last year, the app was tested by nurses at University College Hospitals and two other trusts – South Devon Healthcare Foundation Trust and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital King’s Lynn Foundation Trusts.
Ms Casey said the response from frontline nursing teams had been “overwhelmingly positive”, with nurses reporting it was simple and quick to use.
For example, one trust had been using a paper-based process to gather staffing data, which was taking up to an hour. But that was reduced to between five and 10 minutes with the app.
“People have said it is fantastic and something they can do by the bedside alongside other things,” said Ms Casey. “So a sister who is going on her round making sure all the patients are okay can do this at the same time.
“It’s very important to get the reporting of our staffing right, yet we’ve got finite resources, so we have to make sure we are using nurses absolutely appropriately,” she told Nursing Times.
At the moment, the app is intended to help trusts gather the data they need to set nursing establishments, which would usually be done at least twice a year over a four-week period using the Safer Nursing Care Tool.
The fact the data is so easy to collect could encourage trusts to do it more often to give a more accurate overall picture, suggested Ms Casey.
“We haven’t changed our overall organisational policy for setting our annual establishment – it is still based on the same principles – but this does provide quicker feedback to the sisters about what the data said about their ward for the month,” she said.
“You can start to identify trends, such as Mondays and Thursdays are real high acuity days on this ward, so we need to start tailoring our staffing and look at what we are planning for our rotas,” she added.
“It reduces the time nurses spend collecting data and makes much more efficient use of their time”
The technology means nurses no longer have to input data into a spreadsheet and then wait for someone else to analyse it. The app can remind staff when data is due and can calculate compliance with set staffing levels and flag up potential issues.
She said the hope was that such technology could enable the collection of real-time staffing data in the near future.
“Our vision is that the Safer Nursing Care Tool is something we can do daily so we can respond daily to what our staffing requirements are,” she said.
The app’s development was funded by NHS England as part of its Compassion in Practice nursing strategy.
Pauline Milne, head of clinical workforce development and planning for Health Education East of England, has been leading work on safe staffing under the strategy’s Action Area Five.
She said the app also fed into efforts to reduce bureaucracy and increase the time nurses spent delivering direct care.
“The biggest advantage is that it reduces the time nurses spend collecting data and makes much more efficient use of their time,” she told Nursing Times.
The design of the app meant it could easily be adapted for different types of wards, she added.