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Case Study: NHS Lothian improving IT literacy

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IT literacy for NHS employees has become a fundamental requirement to ensure the smooth running of busy hospitals and to increase levels of patient care. This requires the latest technology and accessibility to flexible IT training to ensure staff have the knowledge to operate IT applications. NHS Lothian – University Hospitals Division (NHSL-UHD) partnered with Thomson NETg to provide a European computer driving licence course to equip staff with the IT skills they need to competently ‘drive’ a PC and maximise their efficiency, and in turn help improve patient care.

NHSL-UHD provides a comprehensive range of first class acute adult and paediatric care to the people of Lothian and beyond. NHSL-UHD hospitals are situated across Edinburgh and the organisation is committed to delivering high-quality modern healthcare. The aim of the division is to ensure that every patient is treated with care and respect at all times. 11,000 staff provide a wide range of specialist services, treating around 142,000 adults and 19,000 children each year.

The challenge
NHSL-UHD, one of the larger NHS organisations in Scotland, is always looking to improve its patient care. One way of raising standards is through the roll-out of new IT systems and hardware to automate processes and improve efficiency. Accessing patient records, writing up reports and medical research are just a few of the tasks that staff require IT skills for to ensure the smooth day-to-day running of busy hospitals and to maintain high levels of patient care.

NHSL-UHD sought a learning solution that would allow it to increase IT efficiency and literacy, and ultimately improve the quality of patient care. This was all the more important given that staff would eventually have access to IT applications.

The requirement came from a planned implementation of various new organisation-wide systems and the need for at least basic PC skills among staff that would come into contact with them. Based on the outcome of early training sessions for one particular system, involving staff in accident and emergency and outpatients departments, it was suggested that as many as 50% of staff were lacking in basic IT skills or did not feel confident working with a PC. As NHSL-UHD employs around 13,000 staff, this lack of IT competence represented a significant skills shortage and a major stumbling block in the efficient implementation of the system.

With busy staff who work erratic hours, the chosen training solution also needed to be delivered in such a way that it minimised the time spent away from work. Staff who needed to be trained in basic IT skills included nurses, doctors, medical secretaries and midwives.

The solution
Having identified the shortfall in IT skills, NHSL-UHD decided to roll out IT training to staff using Thomson NETg’s European computer driving licence (ECDL) course, a European-wide recognised standard of IT competence.

A partnership between the Scottish Executive and learndirect Scotland enabled NHSL-UHD to receive funding to roll out an ECDL pilot project. NHSL-UHD acquired 650 free licences, which it used to implement a web-based version of the ECDL course to its employees, accessible via learndirect’s NHS ECDL portal, Skillnet.

NHSL-UHD initially rolled out Thomson NETg’s ECDL course to 30 team leaders within the midwifery community of the new Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh and among community midwives in 2002. This pilot was then expanded to a group of about 250 learners in the first half of 2003.

The pilot project was a great success and NHSL-UHD decided to open up the availability of the Thomson NETg ECDL course to the whole organisation. The training team presented the pilot report to the organisation’s executive management team, which outlined the benefits the learning had brought, and managed to secure funding since the initial “free” licences ran out in autumn 2003.

NHSL-UHD chose to continue to work with Thomson NETg as its courses had been well received and the company offered a web-hosted learning solution, NETgLearning.com, which would ensure a high degree of flexibility and accessibility.

NETgLearning.com, which is part of Thomson NETg’s integrated learning solution, is hosted on Thomson NETg’s own servers and allows staff to access the ECDL course from any PC with an internet connection.

“NETgLearning.com allows our staff to learn literally anytime, anywhere,” commented Michael Newies, project manager at NHSL-UHD.

“This is a huge advantage for us as we have so many staff carrying out shift-work, who typically find it very hard to attend classroom based sessions. Now they have the flexibility to train whenever and wherever they like. Some staff even access the learning from home.”

The result
Thomson NETg’s ECDL course is helping NHSL-UHD to drive IT literacy, which in turn helps to improve standards of patient care. Opening up the opportunity to learn has also helped to increase staff motivation levels.

To date the NHSL-UHD ECDL learning programme has been extremely well received. Over 1000 people are signed up to NETgLearning.com and nearly 600 ECDL module tests have been taken by learners since December 2003. The organisation is currently aiming to enrol 6000 new learners within a two year period, with the end result being that all NHSL-UHD staff will be IT literate to at least a basic level.

All IT training at NHSL-UHD is currently carried out using e-learning. This early success has led NHSL-UHD to consider implementing online courses in business and HR skills. The training team is also investigating other solutions from Thomson NETg, such as its custom content creation authoring tool.

For NHSL-UHD learners the benefits of the programme have come in many ways. For some, this is a first opportunity to learn using information and communications technology, and indeed for a significant number of people the programme has introduced them to the web for the first time.

For these people the learning material and the mechanism complement each other perfectly. The medium becoming the message itself in a practical way. Morale, involvement and commitment for individuals at work seems to be increasing as a result of the programme. The attainment of an internationally accredited qualification helps also, and the training team uses the ECDL brand name as a key marketing component when selling its services.

NHSL-UHD as an organisation benefits by increasing involvement and motivation, and building the knowledge capital of tomorrow’s workforce.

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Annie Hayes

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