Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) has discovered that when medicines and medical equipment are stored in an organized way, nurses end up with 40 percent more time to spend on patient care. The organized storage approach, spearheaded by organizing specialists from Releasing Time to Care, a pilot project of NHS’s The Productive Ward program, was tested at Lanarkshire’s Hairmyres Hospital, in Scotland. It was paid for the NHS’s Institute for Innovation and Improvement.
Linda King, Hairmyres’ senior cardiac ward charge nurse, told the BBC that the project was difficult in the beginning. Now, King says proudly, “Our motto in here is ‘a place for everything and everything in its place.’” She explained that the time saved through organization had allowed the nurses to start a hand washing campaign to improve hygiene and to set up an early warning system to alert the staff to patients who were at risk for becoming seriously ill.
In addition to providing patients with 8,776 more hours of care from hospital staff members, Hairmyres Hospital was able to reduce the average length of stay for its patients — suggesting that an organized approach to hospital storage actually helped patients to heal faster. It also improved the wellness of hospital staff members themselves — staff sickness rates fell by almost four percent while the Releasing Time to Care project was being implemented.
Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish secretary of health, told the press that the project would soon be extended to other hospitals all over Scotland.
“All too often,” Sturgeon told the BBC, “I hear people say of their dealings with the NHS that the clinical care was good, but that the food or communication could have been better or that they didn’t feel they were treated with enough dignity and respect….The task facing us all is to ensure the way patients are treated becomes as important to everyone delivering healthcare as how quickly they are treated.”
The Productive Ward program has been around since 2007, when it was first implemented at the Royal College of Nursing. Today, in 2010, it has been introduced to about 60 percent of NHS organizations, including hospitals and clinics. The philosophy of the program is that cost reductions and quality of patient care improvements will not happen unless they happen, not at an administrative level, but in a way that is a part of the day-to-day experience of staff members. The program encourages clinicians to be thoughtful about their work habits, thinking about their own work styles and about what kind of support resources would help them to be more efficient. It teaches staff members a new kind of planning process called “Lean Thinking” — which means thinking about how to reduce the amount of time spent on activities that do not add value. In a clinic or hospital, activities that do not add value could mean inventorying medical supplies, looking for forms, data entry, and anything else that is not a part of patient care. Moreover, the Productive Ward program looks to lower level ward staff members to lead the way in setting up more efficient organizational systems and processes.