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NHS 'bureaucratic burden' takes staff away from patients to tick boxes

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The NHS Confederation has called on the DH to ensure any new information collections for the NHS should only be introduced if they add value and are compensated for by addressing bureaucratic burdens elsewhere.

The organisation warns that, unless the bureaucratic burden on NHS organisations is reduced, there is a risk that frontline staff time will be diverted from patient care to form filling and box ticking.

A review of bureaucracy in the NHS by the Confederation has assessed the progress that has been made in reducing the bureaucratic burdens on organisations in the past three years, and looked at where new burdens may lie as a result of changes to the NHS architecture.

It found since 2009 the number of administrative staff working in the NHS has dropped by 10 per cent and the number of managers has dropped by 18 per cent.

But the NHS Confederation paper, Information Overload: Tackling Bureaucracy in the NHS, suggests the requests on organisations to provide information may have not decreased in line with this.

It says a rise in the bureaucratic burden could increase the risk of distracting staff time away from patient care, an issue likely to be highlighted in the imminent Francis report on Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, due to be published next week.

The NHS Confederation report says insufficient progress has been made in reducing bureaucracy in the health service since it carried out its last review in 2009. This lack of progress may in part be because of a lack of cooperation between the various agencies that require information from NHS organisations, particularly agencies working at a local level.

The problem is compounded by the fact that providers still lack the right to formally challenge agencies which ask for the same or similar information that has been requested by others.

There is a risk that the complex structure of the new NHS and the increased number of organisations will add to the administrative burden on NHS organisations.

The Confederation believes the information demanded of NHS organisations should be kept to what is necessary to support the delivery of high-quality patient care and to drive improvements in services. It must also provide real assurance for the public on compassionate patient care.

The development of a potential new inspection regime currently being considered by secretary of state Jeremy Hunt must take account of these objectives. If this generates new information collections for the NHS, they should only be introduced if they add real value and should be compensated for by addressing burdens elsewhere.

The NHS Confederation has called on the DH to support the implementation the recommendations of its review as soon as possible, to free up staff resources and money for frontline services.

Mike Farrar, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: 'NHS organisations have a responsibility to provide the right information so they are accountable to patients and taxpayers. But we need to strike the right balance of providing information, which allows patients to have a clear picture of the standards of care, without spending a disproportionate amount of time providing the same information to numerous organisations in different ways.

'We are concerned that patient care could be affected because organisations and staff are distracted by the burdens of administrative requests from external organisations.'

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