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Milton insists nursing influence will be 'greater than before' under reforms

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Health minister Anne Milton has dismissed claims the chief nursing officer role is to be downgraded, insisting nursing influence in government will be “far greater” in future.

In an interview with Nursing Times, Ms Milton sought to defuse concerns about a new draft structure of the top-level of the Department of Health, which shows the CNO no longer reporting directly to the department’s permanent secretary, as she does at present (news, page 2, 16 August).

Under the government’s reform plans, the CNO role in England is to be split into two after Dame Christine Beasley steps down later this year. One senior nurse will sit on the National Commissioning Board, which is due to take over direct control of the NHS from the DH, and the other will work for the DH with a strong focus on public health.

Ms Milton argued the “mere fact” there would be two nursing leadership roles in the new structure meant there would be “far more nursing influence than there was before”.

But she added: “What matters to me is not process. There’s always a danger that people focus on structures. What matters is what happens.”

Ms Milton suggested the DH post would be badged as the CNO, while the title of the commissioning board role was yet to be confirmed but might be national nursing director.

She said the new public health responsibilities to be taken on by the CNO would “stretch right across government”.

“Health inequalities have got worse, not better,” she said. “The solution doesn’t lie in the Department of Health, it lies across government. We need somebody to take that forward, and that’s why I think they [the CNO] will have greater influence.”

Also speaking to Nursing Times, deputy chief nursing officer Viv Bennett said the new CNO post would particularly look at the crossover between the NHS and public health, and the NHS and social care.

“My view has always been that nurses – and in particular community nurses – in both of those interfaces are the key profession. By putting that responsibility with the post in here, there’s a real chance to make sure that there is no separation,” she said.

Ms Milton added: “Establishing nurse leadership in government has been important for me and I’m glad we’ve got what I think we need to give the professions – because it’s not just one profession in nursing – the leadership, the influence they need and deserve.”

Read the full interview later this week on www.nursingtimes.net

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