We have to trust the technology to help exhausted nursing staff cope with the next stage of our response to the pandemic.
The nursing workforce crisis was in evidence well before Covid-19. Older staff were retiring, fewer graduates were entering the profession, and the relative growth in staff numbers was not keeping up with demand.
In January 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) noted that there was a global shortage of health workers. It estimated that the world will need an additional 9 million nurses and midwives by the year 2030. The estimated 7.3 million nurses and midwives in Europe will not be able to meet current and projected future needs.
Then Covid hit, and the global nursing workforce rose to the challenge, going far beyond what anyone would have expected. There have been healthcare heroes and heroines the world over.
But as vaccines help reduce hospital occupancy, the same issues still remain, and have even got worse.
Not enough nursing staff
The UK’s Intensive Care Society, for example, noted that almost 2,500 extra critical care nurses have been needed to meet ICU staffing standard through the pandemic. “These additional trained staff do not exist,” the ICS stated, “and the discrepancy is further exacerbated by the pre-pandemic ICU shortfalls in doctors and nurses of 10-15%.”
Indeed, there is a real risk that healthcare systems will not be able to recover from the pandemic due to workforce shortages.
In the US, the nursing shortage is forecast to have an impact across the country, especially in the south and west. This is of huge concern; the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) noted research that showed that an increase in a nurses’ workload by one patient increased the likelihood of dying within 30 days of admission by 7%.
The Health Foundation reported that nursing shortfalls and the growing backlog in care means that the UK government ‘will need to exceed its target of 50,000 new nurses in England by 2024/25 if it wants the NHS to fully recover from the pandemic’.
The UK’s Royal College of Nursing Chief Executive & General Secretary Dame Donna Kinnair responded with a statement that many nurses the world over will recognise. “There simply aren’t enough [nurses] to care safely for patients in hospitals, clinics, their own homes or anywhere else.”
Now we have an exhausted workforce in which there will be many who have given their all. Numbers are set to fall when we need to call again on the skills of the nursing workforce.
Essential to retain and respect our nursing staff
We wrote before how nursing staff were beginning to feel like an expendable commodity and some will have had enough. They are a scarce commodity, and we cannot take them for granted any longer.
So how can we boost nursing numbers?
Recruitment and upskilling the workforce have been suggested. Slick ads can attract new people, and nursing associates and advanced clinical practitioners can provide additional support to nursing staff.
But these new team members need to be trained. With older staff leaving, how will those that are left find the time to train their new colleagues?
Retaining and respecting staff has to take priority now. This means giving nurses fulfilling work. Tasks that add no value, such as transcribing vital signs data, cannot continue. The time they spend with the patient is precious and should not be taken up doing jobs that technology can do.
Similarly, often nurses can spend much of their day having to wait for doctors just to pass on information. There are other, better ways to do this, that do not depend on someone else’s availability.
As research into the global shortage of nurses said: “Although public opinion polls identify the nurse as the person who makes the health care system work for them, the conditions of the work environment in which the nurse functions is unsatisfactory and must change.”
If nursing is going to be a profession that will grow, staff need the right mixture of personal support, sensible processes and enabling technology so that they can do their jobs in the way they would like.
Digital technology can empower the nursing community
Technology is available that can ease the burden on nursing staff and remove menial, non-value added tasks such as retranscribing data between systems. Automated data collection can optimise the time that nurses spend with patients, boosting both patient and staff satisfaction.
The right technology empowers the team directly with tools that they can control to share data between the many systems and devices they have to manage. Data can be shared more seamlessly, without the need to copy things on to paper or to wait for colleagues.
Nursing staff have the power to fix the digital communication holes in modern healthcare. We have to give nursing staff the power of interoperability at their fingertips
We have seen this numerous times from working with our healthcare customers.
The evidence is irrefutable; technology helps. Fundamentally, we have to trust technology. With the threat of a reduction in staff numbers ahead, there is a pressing need to look for efficiency in any of the processes of collecting and transporting data and information to the front line of care.
Automation is key
See how we are working in intensive care, maternity and mental health care settings to empower nursing staff with tools that help them provide the person-centred care they want to deliver.