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Case Study: Modern skills for Modern Matron

Sheila is Lead Midwife and Modern Matron for Inpatient Services on the Maternity Unit at St Mary's Hospital in Manchester, part of the Central Manchester and Manchester Children's University Hospital NHS Trust.

Sheila is responsible for making changes and improvements to ensure the patient's journey through hospital is a pleasant and safe one. That involves making sure professional standards of good practice are in line with the latest evidence. It puts her squarely in charge of operational issues, including responsibility for quality of food, hospital cleanliness, risk management, health and safety and staff training.

It's a varied and demanding role and Sheila loves it, but she did feel one thing let her down - her IT skills.

She said: "I could use my own PC at home to surf the internet, and type up assignments using basic word processing skills, but very little else. I was acutely aware that my computer skills were poor and, in that respect, I felt inadequate. Actually, I was a standing joke in our family as both my husband and daughter are very computer literate and I was always asking them for help on quite simple things.

"At work I share a PA, but felt I ought to know how to pull up information or type a letter when she wasn't around.

"The ECDL training was appealing because it was a nationally recognised qualification, and free to the trust. We'd read that around half of those employed by the NHS had limited computer skills and knew it was something we had to tackle. I think the trust as a whole is keen to promote the ECDL and has been very supportive.

"Several staff members from the Maternity Unit signed up, which provided us with an instant support mechanism.

"Our tutor Maureen ran sessions in our Education and Training room two days a week and was extremely committed. I felt she really cared about us and wanted us to achieve and went out of her way to help. It made a big difference to me because I felt at first I would never grasp it. I didn't know basic terminology, like Rom and Ram and when people talked of 'applications' and 'icons' I was lost.

"On Day One I was very apprehensive because everybody seemed more advanced than me and progressed faster. I found that a bit intimidating, and I thought I'd bitten off more than I could chew. Maureen saw I was struggling and went to great lengths to explain things to me.

"I went every Monday 4.00 pm - 6.00 pm, because it fitted best with my work schedule. It was extremely flexible. I did some of the on-line learning, through the NHS ECDL Portal, at home, but I must admit I didn't find that particularly easy - I preferred the personal contact with the tutor and my peers.

"We had to do a minimum of five hours per week on the electronic learning package and there's an exam at the end of each module, which I found a bit stressful, but you do get plenty of practice tests beforehand.

"After a few weeks it began to fall into place and my confidence grew. In fact, I really began to enjoy it and could see all sorts of potential in my job. I completed all seven modules in around 30 weeks and found that it got easier the more you became familiar with how computers packages work. Each module built on the other and after a while I realised there was nothing actually that difficult about using computers.

"Once we'd got to the Access module, which is about databases, I really started to get exited. I could see a direct benefit to work and I'm now in the process of setting up a database to keep track of staff training. I'm responsible for making sure over 200 staff members, including midwives, clinical support staff and ward clerks, receive appropriate training. That might be clinical training and professional development, to mandatory training in resuscitation, manual handling, fire awareness and health and safety.

"I want all midwives to be up to degree standard and need to know where everyone is in their professional development so I can plan who needs to go on what training course, and when. The database will give me immediate access to all that information, helping me to plan staff training more efficiently and to identify any gaps.

"The Excel module, which is about spreadsheets, has enabled me to better manage our preceptorship and development programme for newly qualified midwives. During their 12 months' transitional period, midwives need to spend 13 weeks on the antenatal unit, eight weeks on the delivery unit, eight weeks in the community and the rest of their time split between the three maternity wards. I've now produced a spreadsheet to keep a check on where each midwife is at any one time. It's colour coded for each area and shift and I can see at a glance where the midwives are supposed to be. The spreadsheet can be easily updated and I can circulate it quickly, through email, to the various team leaders to keep them up to date.

"I feel the ECDL training was just the start for me. It will lead to better communication with colleagues and better exchange of information. It will reduce the paper mountain and although I don't think it will give me any more time - probably because it will enable me to do more things I couldn't do before! - it will help me manage the time I have more efficiently."

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© 2004 British Computer Society. Reproduced with the permission.

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