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New public health role a 'fantastic opportunity' for nursing

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England’s first director of nursing for public health has dismissed claims her role will have less clout than the current chief nursing officer and said it represents a “fantastic opportunity” for the profession.

Viv Bennett, previously a deputy CNO, was announced last week as director of nursing in the Department of Health and the government’s principal advisor on public health nursing.

The post is one of two new senior nursing roles created under the government’s reforms. A chief nursing officer is also being recruited to the NHS Commissioning Board which will focus on managing the NHS.

However, questions have been raised by Unison and the Royal College of Nursing over whether the two posts will carry the same status as the existing CNO.

Speaking to Nursing Times following her new appointment, Professor Bennett said comparisons with the structures of the old NHS ignored the opportunities presented by the new world. She said: “This isn’t a replacement [for the current CNO]; these are new roles for a new system.”

The new role was born out of the DH’s increasing focus on public health. Professor Bennett said she would be working closely with the commissioning board’s CNO and saw the roles as complementary and a platform for strong national nurse leadership.

The former health visitor has promised to continue to get out and speak to as many nurses as possible, and champion the work already being done on public health by nurses in all settings. Early priorities in her new role will include developing the nursing contribution to mental health and acting as a link between health and social care, though she will also continue her previous work driving forward plans to expand the health visitor and school nurse workforce.

In addition, Professor Bennett will work across government providing advice on nursing and public health matters to all government departments and will lead on nursing issues relating to new Public Health England. She said she hoped to provide a “link” with local authorities as they take on responsibility for some public health services.

“I have always been absolutely passionate about the nursing contribution to health and wellbeing. I think to have a national role focusing on that is the most fantastic opportunity. It’s a big responsibility to be the first person in that role,” she told Nursing Times.


Early Priorities outlined by Professor Bennett:

  • Establishing the new role within DH with other government departments
  • Working with the new CNO NHS Commissioning Board to establish the two new complementary roles for national nurse leadership in new system
  • Ensuring effective nursing contribution to public health policy development eg public outcomes framework and workforce strategy
  • Increasing the recognition of the contribution of nurses to three domains public health (health improvement, health protection and health services) and working with nurses to maximise/extend that contribution
  • Working with the profession and education on “every contact counts for public health” and becoming health promoting practitioners
  • Further developing roles/maximising impact of the three levels of nursing and public health (all practitioners, those with specific primary and secondary prevention roles, eg in supporting people with LTC and specialist public health nurses)
  • Leading the health visitor programme - working with clinical leaders and practitioners to implement new service model (eg pathways, case studies, EIS first year progress, EIS phase 2) continuing work to increase numbers/capacity
  • Leading the school nursing development programme and publishing development to date
  • Further developing approach to  nursing contribution mental health and wellbeing across life course
  • Working with nurses midwives and health visitors to identify their priority areas. Two recently identified by nurses are public health role LD nursing to reducing health inequalities for people with learning disability and acute hospitals contribution - the role of pre operative clinics - improving health for surgery and beyond
  • Working with partners in health and social care re improving care older people and those with dementia
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