The 18 December was an important day for the NHS. The new NHS Commissioning Board set out its guidance on how the health service will be run when it takes over from the Department of Health in April.
Although not yet a household name, the commissioning board will influence the working lives of nurses across the health service.
However, the main message from the commissioning board boils down to increasing pressure on the NHS to do more with less during 2013-14. Quality of services is paramount, it notes, but so is making the money stretch even further.
The commissioning board has set out a new role for directors of nursing in acute, community and mental health trusts to help police this challenge. Cost improvement programmes “must be agreed” by nursing and medical directors as “having been assured as clinically safe”, it states.
This requirement should give power to the elbow of nursing directors when faced with staffing cuts or skill mix changes dressed up as “improved efficiency”.
The commissioning board has also instructed clinical leaders involved in commissioning NHS services to check cost improvement plans are “safe for patients with no reduction in quality”.
Last year Nursing Times’ successful Seat on the Board campaign helped to convince the government to make it mandatory for the new clinical commissioning groups to have a nurse on their governing board. Now CCGs must use the advice of these nurses wisely to help ensure patient safety is maintained in the NHS services they commission.
It is also imperative that the commissioning board ensures that all CCGs have the mandatory nurse on the board. A Nursing Times investigation into the first group of 34 CCGs to be “authorised” has found five still do not have a nurse in place on their board more than a year after the policy was announced.
Nurse leaders across the NHS undoubtedly face an increasing challenge next year in ensuring safety and quality is maintained in the face of massive pressure to make savings. They will need to be strong in voicing their concerns and will need the support of their staff and the rest of the profession.
The lessons from Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust about the dangers of putting finance ahead of services should loom large.
Finally, I would like to wish you all a very happy Christmas from everyone at Nursing Times.
Steve Ford, news editor
firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me on Twitter @SteveJFord