On the eve of their annual conference, the Royal College of Nursing has released figures from a survey indicating that NHS nurses spend over one million hours every week on paperwork.

An ICM poll of more than 1,700 nurses commissioned by the RCN found that nurses who responded reported that they are spending almost 20% of their working hours on paperwork. The survey did not reflect the jobs of nursing managers, whose responsibilities require more administrative tasks.

88% of the participants in the poll said they had experienced an increase over the past five years in the number of bureaucratic tasks. These were defined as including filing, photocopying and ordering supplies.
85 per cent of nurses who took part in the survey ‘firmly believed’ that help with paperwork would mean they could spend more time caring for patients.

And even nurses who had access to clerical support had, on average, less than three hours direct help each week, despite spending up to twice this amount of time on administrative duties. 28% reported a complete lack of access to clerical support, and just 22% felt that administrative support has been arranged to help them meet the new requirements.

Peter Carter, the RCN general secretary, issued an appeal to NHS managers and the Government for urgent action to recruit more ward clerks, to free up this amount of nurses’ time from “bureaucracy”.
Carter said: "Nurses are clearly feeling the burden of non-essential paperwork. The danger is that this is undermining their ability to care for patients and support relatives.

"Of course, there will always be a certain amount of paperwork that needs to be done but, wherever possible, these non-essential tasks should be carried out by clerical staff. To do this we need to see an urgent increase in the number of ward clerks and other clerical support roles.

"We know the money needed to fund this support is available to the NHS right now. The government could use just some of last year's £2bn NHS surplus to free up nurses from non-essential paperwork, so that they can spend every minute of their shift providing quality patient care."

The figures in detail
The survey showed that 170,000 full-time nurses in posts delivering hands-on care for patients spend an average 7.3 hours a week on paperwork and 100,000 part-timers spend 3.9 hours. It found that "the total time spent on non-essential paperwork for nurses providing direct care to patients is up to 1.6m hours a week".

Christine Beasley, chief nursing officer at the Department of Health, said: "Nurses should spend their time caring for patients, not having to carry out unnecessary administrative tasks. However, some paperwork is necessary for good patient care. It is important that we look at the way wards are run to help increase time spent with patients."