A TEAM of senior nurses went ‘back to the floor’ at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust yesterday, to check in with frontline staff and explain some of the improvements they have got planned. Health reporter Lawrence Dunhill caught up with chief nurse Chris Pearson on the cardiology ward at the Royal Blackburn Hospital.

ONE of the problems with East Lancashire’s hospitals in recent years has been the chasm-sized divide between board members and frontline staff, but significant efforts are now being made to breach this gap.

Chief nurse Chris Pearson made this one of her first priorities after swapping her top job at the high-performing Salford Royal Hospital in January, introducing monthly ‘Back to the Floor Fridays’ for about 40 senior matrons, including herself.

This month she was visiting the cardiology ward with deputy chief nurse Jane Pemberton, to check that nurses were keeping up with various patient assessment checks, relating to nutrition and the risk of devloping bed sores or suffering a fall while in hospital.

But they were also talking to staff about plans to use more technology, such as tablet computers, to carry out many of these checks electronically.

Chris said that was the main difference she noticed when moving to East Lancashire, where many of the assessments are paper-based, whereas Salford is far more advanced in its use of technology.

She said: “Even the medicine administration and prescribing is electronic (at Salford), so it’s something we’re looking at, as it could provide us with more accurate data and release more time for nurses to provide care at the bedside.

“We’ve had a meeting this week about making three of the check sheets electronic, so now we need to engage with staff about it, and ask if it would help them.”

Carrying out all the paper-based risk assessments, which determine which patients need extra attention and flag up potential problems, currently takes about an hour, but Chris and Jane believe the technology could potentially cut this down to about 30 minutes.

Jane said: “Some hospitals can already do a blood pressure check, for example, and the reading will be entered straight into a tablet computer and automatically fill in the charts.

“The computers can save time, but we’ll absolutely still have to use our instinct with patients, they’ll never be able to replace our visual assessments and judgements about how someone is doing.”

The pair are also looking to move nursing bays into the wards from the corridors, which will bring nurses closer to patients. This is another feature of the wards at Salford, but has also been introduced on the new dementia ward (C5) at the Royal Blackburn.

One nurse on the ward, Samantha Boast, said she and her colleagues had already seen the benefits of using a tablet computer for logging blood test results, adding: “It can take a bit of getting used to, but I think it can definitely save time. I think it’s a good thing that we’re looking to bring in more technology to help us.”

Chris’s arrival in January, along with that of interim chief executive Jim Birrell, coincided with the start of rapid improvements being made at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, which culminated in the Care Quality Commission feeling confident enough to lift the organisation out of special measures last month.

Although Chris recognised there were serious problems seven months ago, such as low staffing levels, she was impressed by the will of nurses to turn things around.

She added: “The thing that really struck me is that the nurses here are really really motivated and keen to improve the hospitals.

“Even with everything that went on in the last year, with the Keogh investigation and special measures, the determination of the nurses has been amazing.

“I think it’s because a large percentage of staff live in the area, so it’s their local hospital and they care about it.

“But it’s really heartening to come to work when everyone has that attitude, and the CQC recognised it by scoring us as ‘good’ for caring.

“I would certainly be happy to be a patient here and for any of my family to be treated here.”