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Nurses need greater support to embrace the digital revolution

A major upsurge in digital skills training and support for nurses is required if full benefit is to be gained from technological advances in healthcare, two leading academics have argued.

In an article based on their own research, Professor Dawn Dowding and Dr Sarah Skyrme from The University of Manchester highlight the role technological innovation – particularly Artificial Intelligence (AI) – is expected to play in addressing challenges in the NHS such as the recruitment and retention of nursing staff.

But they add: “Moving to a digital environment with care provided remotely and contact via digital technologies rather than face to face, provides both challenges and opportunities for the existing nursing workforce.”

Consequently, Dowding and Skyrme believe that nurses must be adept at using digital tools.

“Digital technologies have the potential to free up nursing time; one potential outcome of the generation of AI-based tools is that they will take on routine tasks and administrative duties,” they write.  “This could lead to a shift in the approach to staffing services that may encourage some nurses to stay in practice longer, as well as providing opportunities for delivering care in individualised, remote ways.”

But for any digital solution to work effectively, the authors believe there is a need for good infrastructure, including Wi-Fi and access to the appropriate hardware and software.

“There is a lack of equality in availability of internet access among the general population, with individuals on the lowest incomes (and often the highest healthcare needs) more likely to be without internet access or devices to connect to Wi-Fi,” they write.  “Our study highlights how this inequality in access extends to nurses.”

In the article, published by Policy@Manchester, Dowding and Skyrme stress the need for nurses to be properly trained in the use of digital technology.

“Resources to enable nurses to develop digital skills are required,” they explain.  “Many organisations offer their own training, and NHS England has produced a number of digital capability frameworks, though currently not one specifically focused on the nursing workforce. In addition, we need to ensure that nurses graduating from education programmes have the skills to perform in a digitally enabled NHS.”

They continue: “It is often assumed individuals who have ‘grown up’ with digital technologies and use them daily will automatically have the required skills. However, it is clear from our research that this is not the case, and teaching students to use the types of tools currently used in the NHS and care sector requires a well-targeted approach.”

Concluding, the University of Manchester academics urge government and NHS policymakers to focus investment on enhancing the digital skills of the nursing workforce.

“This must involve ongoing training and support for the future, to enable skills development for innovations that are currently hard to predict,” they argue. “Recognition that nurses are essential to the effective and efficient delivery of care services should be included in planning to redesign services, and in the procurement of technologies to support their changing role.”

‘Implications of the digital revolution for the nursing workforce’ by Professor Dawn Dowding and Dr Sarah Skyrme can be accessed free of charge on the Policy@Manchester website.

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Picture Professor Dawn Dowding About Dawn Dowding Professor Dawn Dowding is Chair in Clinical Decision-Making at the School of Health Sciences, The University of Manchester About Dr Sarah Skyrme Sarah Skyrme is an honorary Research Associate at the School of Biological Sciences, The University of Manchester About Policy@Manchester As the University’s policy engagement unit, Policy@Manchester aims to impact lives by influencing and challenging policymakers with robust research-informed evidence and ideas.  We connect researchers with policy makers through a range of methods including informal meetings, roundtables, events and contributing expertise to consultations and calls for evidence across national, devolved, and local government. Our regular thought leadership publications bring together expertise and analysis on pressing policy challenges. More information at:

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