The Royal College of Nursing have called for better communication between nursing staff and the National Programme for IT, and have offered to help the programme reach out and talk to them.

Sharon Levy, Informatics Adviser at the RCN, speaking at the ‘Practical Steps to Implementation of NPfIT’ conference in London, said that nurses "have to be aware and informed. The RCN would like to help; we have channels. We want to use them to make sure members are informed and it’s a two way communication."

Levy said that there was a difference between marketing and communication, and that while the NPfIT had been effective at marketing he felt it hadn’t been very good at engagement; and nurses, in particular, had been sidelined.

"Communication is a two-way street," said Levy, speaking about his frustration about getting responses to queries from the National Programme. "We have been putting things to one LSP and to NPfIT, but nobody is getting back. It’s just like dropping them into a big hole."

"We would like to see nurses in the driving seat for the NPfIT. We are often described as the keys to the patient; especially in primary care and over a long period of time."

As nurses were the "face" of the NHS for many patients, it was extremely important for them to be involved in its development. "Patients hear a lot about Choose and Book. They will grab the practice nurses and ask them what’s happening."

Levy added: "Who’s going to get consent to share patient information? It’s going to be the nurse."

Levy said that Professor Aidan Halligan, who resigned as the lead of clinician involvement at NPfIT in September 2004, had done some work towards engagement: "It was certainly encouraging to hear Aidan Halligan talking about the link to clinical governance, but where is Aidan now?"

The worst case scenario would be if IT systems are put in place without consultation or engagement on the way that nurses work. "It will be a disaster; we shouldn’t reach that stage. We shouldn’t roll out something that people don’t feel comfortable with."

"Nurses will not use the system if they are not competent in using it," explained Levy. "There are nurses out there who have very little knowledge of IT – they are terrified of it. There are nurses out there who are worried that if they press the Delete button, the spine will disappear."

Levy praised the National Programme for the work it had done so far in procuring systems and building relationships with suppliers, but said it was time to move onto a new phase. "You have done really, really well," he said. "But it’s time to move on. We want to be engaged."

"We want to make sure that the voices of nurses and nursing staff are all heard as a cohesive group," concluded Levy.

Heather Drabble was appointed by NPfIT as the national clinical nurse leader under Alan Burns, director of service implementation, in November 2004. According to NPfIT, her portfolio includes "patient and public involvement" and "professional and practice development."