Page last updated at 00:05 GMT, Saturday, 14 February 2009

Missing kit wasting nursing time

drip stand
Missing equipment is a daily frustration

More than a third of nurses waste up to two hours a shift searching for missing medical equipment, a survey suggests.

This equates to 40 hours a month and 900m of NHS wages a year spent hunting for missing pumps, drip stands, thermometers and drugs cupboard keys.

Of the 989 nurses surveyed, nearly all had spent up to an hour locating kit.

The not-for-profit data standards group GS1 UK, which commissioned the study with Nursing Times, said bar code scanning could solve this.

Some days it feels like I spend all day looking for things
One of the nurses surveyed
Bar-coded kit could be scanned in and out of a ward and nurses could then track the equipment's whereabouts by computer.

Nine out of 10 respondents in the survey, which spoke to nurses from England, Scotland and Wales, said they would be prepared to use a computer to hunt down missing items if the information was accurate, with a similar amount willing to use a scanner to log items.

Robbing patient time

Gary Lynch, chief executive of GS1 UK, said: "The survey shows there is a problem. Nurses are wasting time trying to find missing equipment. We believe bar code systems could free up nurses' time to care for patients."

More than a third (37%) of the nurses questioned said they had spent anything from one to six hours looking for items.

And 16% said that they had given up altogether having not found what they were looking for.

One nurse said: "Some days it feels like I spend all day looking for things."

Drip stands
Drugs cupboard keys

Another, Jane Smith from London, said: "I was working on a busy shift last Sunday. One of my patients' dressings needed changing and I had to spend an hour looking for a new one.

"These kinds of things happen on a daily basis."

More than half of the nurses looked for items themselves, with 23% relying on help from colleagues and 11% calling around other wards.

Only 1% of respondents used technology, such as asset-tracking systems, to help find items.

The Department of Health recommends bar-coding and similar coding technologies, saying they could aid accurate tracking of equipment. Barts Hospital in central London is planning to begin a trial of the system.

London's Charing Cross hospital is already using bar codes on patient wristbands to help reduce medication errors.

Janet Davies, of the Royal College of Nursing, said: "The first priority for any nurse is spending time with patients delivering high quality care.

"Of course, there will always be other tasks that have to be done to ensure that a ward runs smoothly, but time could be saved by better use of technology, ward clerks and admin staff.

"This lack of admin support for nurses is a problem that goes beyond access to medical supplies.

"Last year, we found that NHS nurses were spending more than a million hours every week on paperwork that could be done by a ward clerk.

"Nurses should be free to nurse, so it is crucial that employers look into this research and make sure that their systems are as effective for patients as they can be."

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