Patients denied care as nurses fill in forms

'Non-essential' clerical tasks take up 2.5 million hours a week, poll reveals

Hospital patients are being denied vital care because overstretched nursing staff spend too much time filling in forms and doing unnecessary paperwork, it is claimed. Britain's nurses spend an estimated 2.5 million hours a week on "non-essential" paperwork and clerical tasks, according to poll results released today. Time taken away from patient care equates to more than an hour a day for every nurse in Britain, the Royal College of Nursing's annual conference in Liverpool will be told.

The mountain of paperwork stopping nurses from doing the job they trained for has more than doubled in the past five years. The survey of more than 6,000 nurses, by ICM, reveals that more than half (55 per cent) say the burden of non-essential administrative tasks has risen dramatically in the past two years. Disturbingly, more than three-quarters (81 per cent) of nurses said that having to complete such paperwork prevents them from attending to patients.

Dr Peter Carter, head of the RCN, said: "These figures prove what a shocking amount of a nurse's time is being wasted... Yes, some paperwork is essential and nurses will continue to do this, but patients want their nurses by their bedside, not ticking boxes."

The Government says it is reviewing NHS bureaucracy. The health minister Dan Poulter said: "Patients, not paperwork, must be our NHS's priority." He said plans to cut red tape in the NHS will save some 26,000 staff days, "and we are looking at how to reduce bureaucracy even further. We are investing £140m in new technology and training so NHS nurses and midwives can spend as much time as possible with patients."

Yet technology has actually made the situation worse, according to two-thirds of nurses surveyed – who say the use of IT has increased the time they spend on paperwork. "When it takes a nurse double the amount of time to complete a paper form and then type it up on a computer, you know something has gone very wrong indeed," said Dr Carter.

Pam Randall, 59, who works as a staff nurse at a rehabilitation hospital near Croydon, said: "We are stuck doing work on the computer when we should be out looking after the patients. The computer systems do not cover all the things that we have to write so some notes are on computer, some notes are on paper, and the two different sorts of notes rarely get put together."

Years of government-imposed bureaucracy, endless care plans and health and safety assessments, along with a culture of fear over hospitals being sued have led to a massive increase in paperwork, she claims. "I trained in the 1970s and there was nothing like the amount that we have to do now. New systems are being brought in all the time. The choice you have to make is between doing the paperwork during the shift and doing less direct care, or adding the time it takes to do the paperwork to the end of your day."

Labour yesterday attacked the coalition over cuts to frontline NHS staff. The shadow health minister, Andrew Gwynne, said it has slashed thousands of nursing posts – more than 800 in the past month alone. He accused the Government of "wasting billions on a chaotic reorganisation" and allowing a situation where "form-filling is taking nurses away from their patients for longer and longer."

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