More than half of UK surgeons are unaware of the government’s plans to move to a paperless NHS by 2018, according to a new survey.

The Association of Surgeons of Great Britain and Ireland says the findings from its report show that frontline clinicians must be engaged more thoroughly by politicians and healthcare officials.

The association’s report, ‘Operating within a digital NHS?’, found that 57% of those surveyed were not aware of the plans to become paperless, while only 43% said they were aware.

“If the paperless agenda is to be a success within surgery, as well as the wider NHS, more will have to be done to raise awareness of the agenda amongst healthcare professionals to promote front-line clinical leadership,” says the report.

“That 57% of surgeons were unaware of the commitment is of some concern, and steps to address this may help engender support for trusts which are looking to effectively digitise their operations.”

To address this concern, the association recommends that each of NHS England’s national clinical directors prepare a “vision document” outlining how the paperless NHS agenda will be implemented in their specialty, including an assessment of benefits, examples in practice and metrics to measure progress.

The survey found that 56% of surgeons believe a paperless NHS will improve the quality and efficiency of care provided by surgeons, while 44% were not convinced of the benefits.

“This reflects a lack of understanding of the potential benefits of paperless or ‘paper-lite’ working amongst a large number of clinicians, such as facilitating the collection and reporting of data for clinical audits, or a more significant contribution to disease-specific national registries.”

The report says that upcoming technology strategies from NHS England and the Health and Social Care Information Centre should outline plans for a work programme with research and analysis to assess the patient benefits and cost-effectiveness and paperless solutions.

“More clear communication from NHS leaders, demonstrating and linking the role of data and a paperless system, may help to increase support for the paperless agenda.”

Financial implications, organisational and reporting structures, and cultural inertia were seen by surgeons as the three most significant barriers to the implementation of a paperless NHS.

While the association said financial considerations had been partly addressed with the establishment of the Safer Wards, Safer Hospitals Technology Fund and Nursing Technology Fund, there were still problems with the amount of time available for trusts to make applications.

It recommends that NHS England provide more information on how it will financially support its paperless plans, while also ensuring that the technology funds are transparent and give trusts enough time to apply.

In interviews, surgeons highlighted “an element of fear” regarding the use of IT systems in the NHS, which the association said may be due to the problems with the National Programme for IT.

To address the cultural concerns, it recommends that each NHS trust appoint a member on its board to be responsible for the paperless agenda.

“Such officers would not only help to explain the potential benefits of a paperless system to more hesitant board members, but would also help to focus clinical support.”

The online survey took place in summer 2013, with 231 surgeons participating.

Ten of those surveyed then took part in a follow-up interview to expand on their views, with participants chosen to reflect a balance of views from the initial questions.