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Aims: To find out about the nursing community's needs in the following areas: information or knowledge to improve practice in the clinical area; information to support lifelong learning and formal study.
Methods: A questionnaire was circulated in summer 2004 containing questions on types of information source used for particular types of problem or question; specific sources used; ease of access to various information sources including computers and the Internet, and local health library; and workplace culture and environment.
Results: A total of 1715 usable questionnaires were completed and returned. Significant numbers of the nursing community have currently no or limited access to computers. Nursing staff in the independent sector had less access to computers and the Internet than those working for the National Health Service (NHS). Workplace culture was as important as access to IT equipment.
Conclusions: As a result of the survey, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is working with the NHS and the independent health sector to improve access and provide complementary services for the whole nursing community.
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We developed a questionnaire in collaboration with RCN colleagues from across the UK, health librarians and an independent statistician. We asked about types of information sources used for particular types of problem or question; specific sources used; ease of access to various information sources including computers and the Internet, and the local health library if they had one; and workplace culture and environment. Questions were phrased in a variety of formats including tick boxes and open responses.
We decided to use a hard-copy questionnaire to ensure that we reached the whole target audience, not just those health care professionals with good access to information technology and the skills and confidence to use it. Thus, no one was excluded as a result of lack of confidence using information technology (IT)—a major problem with online surveys.
The survey contained 42 questions, although as many of these contained several statements requiring a response, in total there were nearly 300 variables to code for each questionnaire. Given the length of the questionnaire, we felt that merely posting the survey out at random to members would be unlikely to yield a high response rate. We therefore decided to use ‘local champions’ to distribute questionnaires in their workplaces, encourage colleagues to complete them and who would then be responsible for returning them. These local champions, 129 in all, consisted of RCN activists and health librarians. Local champions were encouraged to reach as wide a cross-section of their workforce as possible—registered nurses, midwives, health visitors and health care assistants—and to include colleagues who were not RCN members.
Questionnaires were also posted to a random selection of RCN forum members, and to individual RCN members responding to publicity on the website or using any of the four physical libraries. Sectors which would be difficult to reach via local champions, such as primary care, the independent sector, and nursing staff in care homes, were reached via direct mailing or at RCN events.
Questionnaires had the RCN region of the respondent printed on them, and the code of the local champion where applicable. They were otherwise anonymous. The questionnaires were distributed between 1 June 2004 and 16 July 2004. Freepost envelopes were enclosed to encourage a higher response rate.
In total, 7862 questionnaires were distributed and 1715 usable questionnaires completed and returned, a response rate of 22%. Fifty-five questionnaires were returned blank and 19 only partially completed—these were excluded from the analysis. The forms were coded and entered into an SPSS database (SPSS Inc., Chicago, IL, USA), then analysed with the help of an independent statistician. A full copy of the questionnaire is available from the authors.
Limitations of methodology
The sample of health care professionals we used was self-selecting, and it is likely that only members of the nursing community for whom information is an issue would take the trouble to complete a 30-minute questionnaire. As the questionnaire involves self reporting, the data we gathered are based on respondents’ perceptions, which are subjective and may not always be completely accurate. There is also the possibility of respondents mis-interpreting questions, especially in areas with which they are not familiar, such as the Internet. To minimize this problem, we were careful to include examples, especially around electronic resources.