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Interview: Technology must ‘enhance and not take away’ skills of GPNs

Interview: Technology must ‘enhance and not take away’ skills of GPNs

Speaking in an exclusive interview, NHS England’s national digital primary care nurse lead Helen Crowther outlines the value of AI in healthcare and the importance of being curious about the digital future

Artificial intelligence (AI) and digital resources must not be used to take away the knowledge and experience of general practice nurses (GPNs) but to ‘enhance’ them instead, England’s digital primary care nursing lead stressed.

Ms Crowther, who has been in the role and national team since 2018, said a lack of definition around what AI looks like in primary care, as well as a ‘top-down’ approach, meant the workforce does not always ‘recognise what it is’.

She cited examples where AI can be used to help patients understand their long-term conditions and described the ‘benefits’ this can bring to patient outcomes.

In addition, there were also ‘new market entrants’ coming into primary care ‘to challenge some of the outdated practices of what we know, we accept, or we go along with’.

But she stressed the need to use technology and tools to ‘really enhance the knowledge and the experience that is within nurses’.

She added: ‘We need a diverse knowledge of nursing and the AI that comes into that to actually treat our diverse populations. This one model for one person is not going to match.

‘So actually, bring it together and it does have things that can complement.

‘I don’t want to take away my experience, skills and knowledge, I want it to be enhanced. I want it to look after me. I want it to be at my fingertips to be able to give me that information and knowledge at the right time.’

It is vital that nurses across primary care know how to get the digital resources and tools they need, as well as training, said Ms Crowther.

‘It’s about making sure that everybody is taken on the journey [and] know how to access tools, resources, information,’ she added.

‘That’s my encouragement really – to be curious about that. Because we are all using clinical systems, we are all using technology, we will all have a different opinion on whether we like it or don’t like it.

‘But it’s making sure that you are safe to use it, and that you are curious to develop more skills around it.’

Ms Crowther added: ‘I wouldn’t want to be a nurse who is against it, I would want to be a nurse who is embracing and thinking what is next?’

During the interview, Ms Crowther pointed to the launch of the Digital Nurse Network in 2019, which helped build a community of GPNs to look at the digital agenda.

In launching the network, Ms Crowther said it set the standard ‘to say primary care should not be forgotten about’ within this field of work.

In addition, she highlighted the development of senior nursing roles within the digital space at NHS England, including that of the national chief nursing information officer role in 2020, which is currently held on an interim basis by Helen Balsdon.

A conference held this year in Birmingham heard from nursing leaders, including Ms Balsdon, who highlighted the need for action to be taken to ensure there are more digital nurse leaders, including local chief nursing information officers, across community and primary care settings.

Most CNIOs are based in hospital settings, with only around six in community and just one known to be within primary care.

Our exclusive manifesto for GPNs focused on the need for general practice to ‘continue to evolve to serve patients better, adopting approved digital platforms and applications to improve patient care and outcomes’.

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