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Disaster strikes British NHS: telephone advice nurses highly qualified

April 6, 2004 -- A brief unsigned item in today's Times (of London) reports that the National Health Service's new telephone health advice service, NHS Direct, has attracted very experienced nurses from NHS specialty areas with "severe skills shortages." But the piece also notes that the nurses' experience seems to add value to the advice service, and that the nurses might otherwise be lost to NHS completely.

The article appears to be based on a March 31 Nursing Standard report, which was in turn based on a University of Wales survey of the "telephone experts who dispense advice to worried callers and who, hopefully, divert many from visiting casualty units." The NHS Direct nurses averaged 18 years of prior NHS experience. The survey also reportedly found that the advice nurses feared they were losing their clinical skills. To its credit, the piece notes that the nurses' valuable skills might not be wasted at NHS Direct, as nine out of 10 nurses there had used their clinical knowledge to "override the computerised decision-making software" when it offered no solution to a caller's problem. The article might have noted that telephone health advice, which can resemble ED triage without the critical tool of physical assessment, would seem to call for just the type of highly skilled nurses NHS has attracted. The piece also notes that before NHS created this "safety net for staff feeling burnt out, skilled nurses were leaving patient care to work in places such as Marks & Spencer (a UK department store) instead."

See the article "Helpline lures best nurses" in the April 6, 2004 edition of the Times.


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