This post was written by Shirley Berry, Partnership Lead for Police and Health at Me Learning, and John Rhodes, Training and Education Lead working with NHS Trusts.
Accelerated digitalisation places huge demands on NHS trusts. But while most realise the benefits technology systems can bring, they often find it tough to prioritise training because of the considerable pressure on staff time and resources. So what is the best way for trusts to get the balance right between training and managing operational demand?
To give an idea of scale, look inside any NHS trust and it is astonishing the number of different technology systems used day in and day out to access patient records, book appointments, collect performance and workforce data, manage staffing records and much more besides. In fact, some trusts say they use up to 400 different software systems, giving a true sense of the scale of digitalisation now underway within the NHS.
While these many software solutions provide an opportunity for better, more joined up patient care and treatment, this can only happen if they perform to optimal levels. But this in turn will only be achieved when the people using those systems have the skills to get the very best out of them, so they can complete tasks accurately and in the minimum amount of time, even in a high pressured environment.
Supporting employees to do their jobs well is part of the NHSX What Good Looks Like (WGLL) framework. For this to become a reality, systems need to have formal training programmes and be incorporated into new starter inductions because many systems are simply not sufficiently intuitive for users to pick up the skills on the job. And use of those systems needs to become second-nature.
But the dilemma is that traditional systems-training methods take high levels of staff time and budget – both commodities in exceptionally short supply in the NHS – and people forget what they’ve learned because training takes place too far ahead of go-live. This means trusts need to be smarter in selecting the right training methods and allow employees time to learn, and repeat that learning, so they become competent and confident in system use. When this happens, it will have a hugely positive impact on their own wellbeing, and on their ability and capacity to deliver the very best patient care.
Are we doing enough to prepare employees to use the multitude of software systems they now encounter in their daily work? Is the learning effort being concentrated in the right place and in the right way? We explore some of the main issues with John Rhodes, a freelance training specialist who has supported a number of trusts with major implementation projects, and Shirley Berry, Health Sector lead at Me Learning to get their views on what more can be done to support NHS employees with digital transformation at this important time.
Do you think the majority of trust do enough to prepare their people when a new software system is being rolled out?
John Rhodes: In short, no. Good training around IT/Clinical systems is still seen as a luxury in many trusts and when it comes to budgets, often the least provided for within a project. This is changing, from my experience, with more projects being cross organisational and cooperative. What is often lacking though is a plan to integrate continual development and system change, a natural element of any system implementation as a Trust at first implements and then absorbs and gets used to a system.
Shirley Berry: My experience is that training is often mandated in procurement documents as train-the-trainer, which restricts the response of suppliers and deters them from considering alternatives which might be more effective. It would be better to ask suppliers to describe how they would achieve sustainable outcomes through training. This shift will be critical as ICSs start to understand the scale and complexity of training multiple organisations and roles on the same systems, on an ongoing basis. It will also provide opportunities to assess innovative approaches currently uncommon in the NHS and create a best-in-class footprint.
What more do you think they can be doing?
John Rhodes: Investing more in the infrastructure around clinical system training to provide not only initial but ongoing blended training to meet the needs of new and existing staff throughout a system’s lifetime. It needs to be prioritised.
Shirley Berry: We’ve seen that repetition is key to successful training outcomes and system adoption. Giving people tools and techniques they can access at any time on any device means they can repeat learning as often as they need.
Do you think the NHS assumes a higher level of digital competence because so many staff now use a smartphone and other devices?
John Rhodes: Yes though of course knowing how to message in Facebook or shop does not necessarily equate to appropriate and efficient use of a clinical system.
Shirley Berry: I agree with John, even ‘intuitive’ systems are only intuitive if you know how to use them. Most clinical systems are complex for a reason – they’re functionally rich and hold a huge amount of data, so there’s always a right and wrong way to do things based on how a particular organisation uses it. Understanding that is important and that’s the bit that’s hardly ever intuitive.
How do you think trusts can be smarter in the training methods used? What do you think is the best way to train an entire workforce, including different roles with different training requirements?
John Rhodes: A blended approach needs to be employed with face to face where appropriate but also options for eLearning and Teams sessions to ensure it meets all learning styles and can reach all staff whatever their working patterns.
Shirley Berry: What works well is providing the core aspects of a system via digital learning – the things everyone needs to do in the same way. Blending this knowledge with virtual classrooms gives people the opportunity for purposeful practice in a safe space. Having an expert on-hand for support and guidance helps to reduce tech-stress and change-anxiety and so supports employee wellbeing.
Has the pandemic changed the way the NHS views training? If so do you think these patterns will continue?
John Rhodes: Yes to a certain extent. It’s certainly proved that staff can be trusted in accessing learning remotely and that classroom training is not the panacea for everything training. I believe a more balanced approach will now become common.
Shirley Berry: There’s been a definite shift in mindsets, with some of our clients now demanding an online aspect to their wider blended solutions. But we’re still seeing some NHS organisations and system suppliers mandating face-to-face classroom training for entire implementations of new systems. We’re encouraging the NHS as a buyer, to demand better. Face-to-face training is great for some things, but it doesn’t fit everyone’s learning styles or pace, so it’s not inclusive. It’s also unsustainable because it doesn’t support ongoing organisational needs, particularly for training new employees or temporary staff. We’d always recommend a blended approach that considers role and workflows within an organisation. Also, deploying different interventions and formats makes the overall learning solution more inclusive.
To find out more about the training options provided by Me Learning, contact Shirley Berry at firstname.lastname@example.org.