NHS doctors and nurses spend up to 10 hours a week on bureaucracy – a third of which is unneccesary, a Government review has found.
The report suggests that more than £1 billion a year is spent by the health service collecting and checking data, with 70 per cent of staff saying the burden of paperwork has risen in the past five years.The review by the NHS Confederation, which represents health service managers, said duplication and poor use of technology meant staff were wasting their time completing bureaucractic processes.
Clinical staff interviewed for the review said they spent up to 10 hours a week collecting or checking data – more than a quarter of their average week – and that more than one third of the work was neither useful nor relevant to patient care.
Around one quarter of the bureaucratic demands came from national bodies, such as regulators and NHS England, with the rest coming from NHS trusts or other organisations.
The review suggests the recent reorganisation of the NHS, with 150 primary care trusts replaced by 210 clinical commissioning groups, could have increased the amount of bureaucracy in the system, although the changes were designed to streamline the way the service is run.
It describes “a lack of clarity of roles and responsibilities, resulting in duplicated requests”.
It follows a study by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) which found the amount of time nurses spent away from patients, on non-essential paperwork, has doubled, with 2.5 million hours lost a week.
More than three quarters of nurses said the time spent completing paperwork prevented them from attending to patients.
In the new report, NHS managers said they spent more time writing plans to improve services than making improvements.
One said: “Action plans are required for everything, often the same actions are in numerous plans, therefore duplicating work. So much time is spent writing the action plans, detracting from time to actually complete the actions.”
Earlier this year, a national review of patient safety said the NHS regulatory system was “bewildering in its complexity and prone to both overlaps of remit and gaps between different agencies”.
The new review, commissioned by the Department of Health, calls for regulators to reduce their demands for information, and calls on ministers to tighten the rules on data requests, to ensure a more streamlined system.
Dr Peter Carter, General Secretary of the RCN said it was “vital” for the NHS to tackle duplication and free up staff so they could devote more time to patient care.
He said: “Tackling this burden requires smarter systems, proper admin support, well designed technology and better data sharing. Without these improvements, many nurses tell us they struggle to maintain patient care due to low staffing levels and the burden of national and local bureaucracy.”
Dr Karen Castille, NHS Confederation associate director, said: “In a modern health service, the collection and analysis of data must be timely, accurate and useful, and not out of proportion to the benefit it brings to patients and staff.
“In our detailed research, clinical staff reported that they spend between two and 10 hours each week dealing with data. It is critical that we ensure this is not wasted time by extracting every ounce of value from it and turning it into helpful information that can be used to improve care.”
A Department for Health spokesman said: “Good information about how well services are doing is essential, but needless paperwork is not. Doctors and nurses went into their professions to help patients, not number-crunch or box tick.
“That is exactly why we commissioned this review, so we could identify the causes of unnecessary bureaucratic burden on doctors and nurses and take action so they can spend more time caring for patients.
“We have already taken big steps forward in tackling red tape in the NHS. A million pounds has been saved from cutting unnecessary pieces of data gathering and we are also focusing on increasing the use of technology to save staff time, with a £100 million nursing technology fund and a billion pound investment in technology to improve patient care.”
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