Calls for consistent lone worker protection after survey highlights gaps in NHS provision

NHS Protect survey reveals wide variance in provision of protective technology among trusts

As NHS workers become more mobile and provide more services in the community, a survey has revealed a wide variance in provision of protective technology among trusts.

NHS Protect has completed a comprehensive survey of lone worker protection across the NHS in England and found wide variance in provision by employers.

These findings suggest that there is more work to do so that the importance of lone worker protection is recognised and to ensure that a range of solutions are available

“We needed a comprehensive overview of the full range of lone worker protection systems and user groups out there in the NHS,” said Sue Frith, managing director of NHS Protect.

“This refreshes our understanding of the fast-changing lone worker services market and will inform important decisions in the years ahead.”

Over 2,000 stakeholders in the NHS were contacted by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) and more than 700 commissioned services were invited by NHS Protect to complete the survey.

Data collection took place from January to April this year and the exercise was approved by the Standardisation Committee for Care Information (SCCI).

The data received was then analysed for trends. Some of the key findings were:

  • Badge holder type lone worker devices - over 60% of the NHS market - remain more popular than key fob devices
  • Use of mobile phones for lone work is steadily rising. Occupational therapists and community health staff are shown as the highest users of management systems and alarm type solutions
  • Different sectors experience very different levels of assaults on workers
  • The sector with the lowest number of assaults (acute hospitals) has the highest usage of devices (73.8%), but many other factors may be contributing to this figure
  • The ambulance sector has the lowest rate of lone worker device usage (41.67%)
  • The mental health sector - where NHS staff suffer the highest assault rate at 223 per 1000 - does not have a higher rate of lone worker device usage to reflect this
  • In their lone worker protection planning for the next two years, most NHS organisations are looking at lone worker devices (41%), training (40%), management systems (28%) and CCTV (31%)
  • The lowest level of intention to improve lone worker protection is found among organisations with the lowest level of current protection - 29.4% for no devices versus 52.9% for some devices. There is a risk that the majority improve protection, but a few organisations retain an insufficient level of protection without the desire to improve
  • Employers identified their main barriers to improving lone worker protection in the near future as being lack of funding (61.8%) and lack of resources available (43.4%)

Frith said: “These findings suggest that there is more work to do so that the importance of lone worker protection is recognised and to ensure that a range of solutions are available. The national picture is that there are holes in the NHS safety net for lone workers. Employers in the NHS will continue to have our full support to fix them”.

While organisations are increasingly deploying lone worker solutions, many make the mistake of looking at the problem in isolation. This is potentially expensive and can become a catalyst for inefficiency as they fail to optimise existing technologies

Speaking to BBH , a spokesman for ANT Telecom added: "As the research shows, the level of protection provided for lone workers varies considerably. And, given the widespread variability in lone workers in the NHS, a one-size-fits-all approach to protecting them does not exist. This is why conducting a collaborative, risk-based audit of common workforce activity to identify needs and areas of exposure is imperative.

And he warned: "A knee-jerk response would be to look for a product-based solution to the problem. As lone working increases there is a wave of low-cost, effective alarms and devices flooding the market. But, in the era of the 'Lone Danger', it’s no surprise that there are also cheap solutions that are neither fit for purpose, nor aligned with real-world business needs.

The best solutions go beyond an off-the-shelf product. Before going anywhere near procuring a solution, trusts are best advised to identify a trusted telecommunications partner that can conduct the appropriate needs analysis to deliver a fit-for-purpose, long-term and cost-effective solution."

Offering advice on choosing a solution, he added: "The options are both varied and diverse, comprising tools, systems and methodologies that cover the full gamut of high, medium and low-risk environments. For example, organisations are increasingly deploying lone worker tools that align with consumers’ growing appetite for mobile technology – and building solutions that capitalise on the trend towards Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) methodologies. But BYOD is just one of myriad opportunities to create lone worker solutions that reflect the needs of all stakeholders. It’s only through developing a full understanding of organisational needs that the NHS will be able to identify the best-fit solution to suit budget and deliverables.

BYOD is just one of myriad opportunities to create lone worker solutions that reflect the needs of all stakeholders. It’s only through developing a full understanding of organisational needs that the NHS will be able to identify the best-fit solution to suit budget and deliverables

"It is, however, also important to look at the bigger picture. While organisations are increasingly deploying lone worker solutions, many make the mistake of looking at the problem in isolation. This is potentially expensive and can become a catalyst for inefficiency as they fail to optimise existing technologies. Investing in a lone worker system is not always necessary – the solution could simply be a case of making existing infrastructure work smarter. This reinforces the value of a good technology partner that can work with a trust to understand their safety and efficiency requirements and design an integrated telecommunications strategy that aligns with business needs. A good partner can not only help the NHS work smarter, it can help it buy smarter too.

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