CNO Dame Christine Beasley has called on nurses to demonstrate ‘flexibility’ in working outside their normal clinical area to prevent swine flu cases overloading the NHS.
She also urged employers to communicate with staff about their emergency plans. The CNO was responding to the Nursing Times and HSJ survey of how NHS staff are reacting to the challenge.
It showed that 57% of nurses were prepared to work outside their normal clinical area to cover staff shortages - but 28% said they would refuse and 15% were unsure.
Dame Christine added that nurses should recognise they all possessed ‘core skills’ such as dispensing medication and wound management, which were transferable between many
However, she advised nurses not to take on any tasks in which they did not feel competent. ‘Nurses are accountable for their own practice,’ she stressed, even when responding to emergencies.
Senior nurses could take on more junior roles when working outside their normal areas of practice, she added.
If nurses found themselves asked to take on tasks that they did not feel competent to perform, the CNO advised that
they should suggest taking on support roles instead - freeing up the remaining specialists.
If they continued to be pressured, they should speak to managers and, if necessary, their union representative.
The CNO reminded nurse managers that they were also governed by the NMC code of practice, which meant that
they should not be asking nurses to work outside their areasof competence.
She added: ‘This is the moment for nurse managers to identify potential ‘pressure points’, likely to include emergency, critical, intensive and paediatric care.
‘They should then analyse their organisation’s workforce - to see, for example, if there were any former intensive or critical care nurses working in other parts of the organisation whose skills could be quickly refreshed.
Dame Christine said that experience in swine flu hotspots such as Birmingham showed that demand could increase very
quickly and staff might be required to respond rapidly. She added there was likely to be significant variation in demand across the country.
The CNO stressed that the swine flu pandemic was ‘very unlikely to finish in a couple of months’ and that therefore it was important nurses remained ‘fit and healthy enough to continue to care for patients’.
As a result, she advised nurses not to cancel holidays or training scheduled for the autumn - nor should managers introduce blanket bans on leave.
All, however, should recognise that they might need to change plans at short notice. Reacting to the survey
findings that nearly one-third (30%) of nurses did not have confidence in their organisation’s plans to deal with the outbreak, Dame Christine said: ‘Nurses must understand their role and their part in contingency plans. Employers should ensure they get relevant information to nurses as quickly as possible.’