Nurses and other NHS staff in Scotland are spending thousands of extra hours with patients each year thanks to a scheme to help them work more efficiently, a report has said.
In wards which implemented the Releasing Time to Care (RTC) programme, time spent with patients – rather than on jobs such as administration, tracking down equipment or ordering supplies – increased by 64 per cent.
The report, seen by The Scotsman, found that Scotland is leading the world in rolling out the principles behind the initiative.
The RTC programme, led by Healthcare Improvement Scotland and NHS Education for Scotland, is now being trialled by teams involved in integrating health and social care systems to see if it can also help improve performance.
The initiative, adopted by health boards in 2009, involves staff receiving training to help identify where time could be saved doing tasks which keep them away from patients.
Examples of improvements include streamlining stock ordering methods to reduce paperwork, moving equipment to make it more accessible to staff when needed and creating “at a glance” patient records to make handovers between shifts easier.
The programme, originally developed by NHS Improving Quality, based within the NHS in England, also operates in 14 other countries worldwide.
Other examples included 2,311 hours a year saved at Annan Community Hospital in Dumfries and Galloway by improving shift handovers and introducing a system to provide all patient information in one place.
At the Lawson Community Hospital in Golspie, in NHS Highland, 4,247 nursing hours per year have been saved by making changes so mealtimes are less rushed and drugs are dispensed more efficiently.
Simple changes also helped make big differences to patients, the report found.
At Kirklandside Hospital, Kilmarnock, in NHS Ayrshire and Arran, a treatment room was refurbished with a new layout which reduced the time staff spent accessing equipment and allowed more patients to be treated at the same time.
Fiona Cook, from Healthcare Improvement Scotland, said the introduction of the RTC programme in Scotland was seen as cutting edge.
She added: “NHS Improving Quality has told us that no-one can rival Scotland in the passion and commitment of NHS staff to enthusiastically embrace the principals of Releasing Time to Care.
“Programmes like this have helped to enhance Scotland’s reputation as a world leader in patient care.”
Julie Main, from NHS Education for Scotland, added: “We’ve seen compelling examples that demonstrate a real difference in the quality of patient care.
“The success of the programme has provided a new and more efficient way of working in the NHS in Scotland – a process that now provides a better quality of direct care to patients.”
Programmes such as RTC are seen to be crucial as the NHS faces growing demand in the coming years due to the ageing population.
Recent weeks have seen concerns voiced by medical and nursing leaders that staff are already struggling with rising workloads.
Margaret Watt, chair of the Scotland Patients Association, said: “Anything that means staff have more time to care for patients is good.
“There is too much paperwork and we should be doing even more to make sure time is focused dealing with the most important people – the patients.”