15/07/2013 08:57 BST | Updated 12/09/2013 06:12 BST

The Value of Specifics and When Nursing Goes Viral


Nurses are a fascinating group, who I spend most of my professional time on. In our Trust alone we have close to 3000 of them, and what's so incredible is how much knowledge they have between them.

Not so long ago, a lot of the roles we have now didn't exist. There certainly wasn't the variety of specialist nurses that there are now, and while I've heard some question the value of these roles, it is the view of many senior nurses and nurse leaders that condition-specific roles are bringing about improvements in patient care faster than ever before. What's more, these advancements can be bolstered and refined with the use of online tools such as Twitter and blogs.

Take dementia, for example. A recent article in the Nursing Times said that "a quarter of hospital inpatients have dementia." With figures like these, it's clear that nursing the issue once a patient arrives on the ward is only a third of the battle. Effective training for staff, like that offered by Edye Hoffman, founder of Dementia Compass (@dementiaCOMPASS), can equip all hospital staff with the skills required to work with dementia patients, and share the load of what is undoubtedly a challenging condition.

Then there's the role of the specialist nurse, who by working alongside doctors and research scientists, can translate evidence and results into practical care solutions for patients. The specialist nurse combines the tactile, practical and common sense experience of everyday nursing, with the expert knowledge of a complex disease. Val Freestone (@dementia_nurse), a specialist dementia nurse said:

"Specialist nurses go the extra mile working in their own time, thinking creatively and leading by example. As for the Trusts who employ them, it sends a clear message to patients that their condition is important and that everything possible is being done to improve the experience their experience."

A lot of this still happens internally, inside Trusts between teams, who might put out an article once some credible results have been achieved, but more and more often, nurses are taking to social media, to Twitter in particular to collaborate with their peers and develop expertise in an exciting new way. Being able to interact with other nurses and organisations in such an immediate way is giving nurses the inspiration to turn their ideas into reality faster than ever before.

Cancer, dementia, thrombosis and organ donation are being tackled in increasingly creative ways by nurses from around the country working together, but there's still a long way to go. The most recent Royal College of Nursing survey into the use of technology in nursing revealed that while 85% of RCN members were confident using computer technology, almost as many (78%) felt unable to influence the use of it in their own workplace. Time and training were cited as the two biggest limitations, which begs the question - what now?

Trusts around the country are beginning to see the advantages of engaging their staff with social media, and it's time for all of us to provide the support. How do we get more nurses online, collaborating safely and effectively? How do we get the most out of social media for patients?