Maureen Little, Clinical Safety & Compliance Manager (CSCM) at JAC, discusses the NHS’s move to seven-day services across the UK, and how IT systems can help deliver on the mandate of improved clinical safety and a consistent service.

The publication Everyone Counts: Planning for patients 2013/14committed the NHS to move towards routine services being available seven days a week. The main driver for this enhanced service model is the considerable evidence that has emerged over the last ten years linking the reduced level of service provided at the weekend to poor outcomes for patients admitted to hospital as an emergency.

The view supported by a broad range of public and professional bodies is that hospitals should meet patient and public expectations of a consistent service seven days a week to improve patient outcomes.

“…it is the quality of planning, delivery and evaluation of the treatments provided that will deliver these benefits, and not the extended working week in isolation.”

There is no doubt that providing consistent consultant-led services will benefit patients, as well as enrich the training of the next generation NHS doctors. However it is the quality of planning, delivery and evaluation of the treatments provided that will precipitate these benefits, and not the extended working week in isolation.

A seven-day working week for hospitals calls for a carefully devised rota system to ensure that operations run smoothly and service delivery remains uncompromised. Although necessary, this approach increases the chances of mistakes if systems aren’t put in place to support clinicians, particularly when it comes to administering the correct medicines to the correct patients.

“…providing key clinical staff with the right information at the right time, relating to the right patient, is pivotal to efficient care management…”

While there is no substitute for the decision-making expertise of healthcare professionals, specialised software solutions are designed to provide support for clinicians who are expected to work quickly and for long hours in high-pressure situations. And while a seven-day working week will improve patient outcomes, it is likely to only add to this pressure unless measures are taken to support change. Organisational commitment to the use of these systems is critical to clinical safety as the NHS moves into a more composite, multidisciplinary model.

Healthcare professionals should be able to pass work between each other seamlessly from shift to shift, with the relieving clinician being able to easily prescribe or administer the correct medicines every time. The use of such systems in providing clinical staff with the right information at the right time, relating to the right patient, is pivotal to clinical safety and the underpinning treatment outcomes.

Mistakes in healthcare are invariably costly, sometimes even deadly, and this is particularly the case when it comes to medicines. A specialised software solution will not only make medication records readily available and update them in real time, it provides clinical and pharmacological checking to support decision-making, thereby improving accuracy and baseline patient safety levels.

“A specialised IT system can drive transformation…”

The reality is that medicines therapy remains the cornerstone of healthcare. The move to seven-day working presents an opportunity for Trusts to evaluate their prescribing, manufacturing, dispensing and supply chain for medicines against the new needs of the Trust to ensure that new systems and clinical processes are as efficient as possible, every day of the week.

There is increasing evidence of teams across the NHS using systematic redesign approaches to create lean, largely error-free medicines therapies that deliver consistent outcomes and save money. The availability and sharing of agreed protocols, defined routes, default doses and locally-configured clinical notes, alerts and other supportive communications all play a role in mitigating patient safety risks.

Making routine services available seven days a week will add considerable pressure to healthcare professionals as they strive to eradicate a drop in patient outcomes over the weekend. By providing clinicians with tools to help them do their jobs intuitively, regardless of when or where they find themselves on shift, treatment times will be reduced, re-admittance rates will decline and the risk of medicines-related errors will be mitigated. A specialised software solution can drive transformation towards an efficient seven-day working week, and nowhere is it more likely to save time, money and lives than in medicines management.