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CNO role should be 'kept under review', says Francis report

The government’s splitting of the chief nursing officer role in England into two positions should be “kept under review”, according to the Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust public inquiry report.

As part of the government’s reforms, the post of the CNO for England was restructured, with a CNO being appointed to the new NHS Commissioning Board and a director of nursing appointed at the Department of Health.

The CNO is currently Jane Cummings and the DH director of nursing is Viv Bennett. They replaced Dame Christine Beasley.

Concerns were raised last year that the splitting of the role might dilute the nursing voice at senior NHS levels, though others argued that the opposite was true and having two senior voices was better than one.

In his report today, Robert Francis QC said the inquiry had been told that the commissioning board’s CNO would act as the “head of the nursing profession in England” and would “have the greatest opportunity to lead and directly influence nursing in the NHS”.

“The CNO will also be the principal adviser to the government on NHS nursing matters. The Board also intends to have four regional chief nurses.”

But Mr Francis said the “effectiveness of the newly positioned office of CNO should be kept under review”.

This was in order to ensure the maintenance of a “recognised leading representative of the nursing profession as a whole, able and empowered to give independent professional advice to the government on nursing issues” with equivalent authority to that provided by the chief medical officer.

“It would be unfortunate at a time of such challenge to the nursing profession if its voice were to be diminished just when it’s standing and self-regard need to be enhanced for the good of the patients it serves,” Mr Francis said in his report.

“Clearly, it is not the intention of the changes described to do that, but the effectiveness of the new arrangements should be kept under review,” it added.

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