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New roles, new challenges

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VOL: 96, ISSUE: 37, PAGE NO: 1

Jane Scullion, MSc, BA, RGN, is respiratory nurse consultant, Glenfield Hospital, Leicester

After more than three years in power, the Labour government has failed to deliver on its pre-election promise to modernise the NHS to meet the needs of the 21st century. This means that radical reforms will have to be implemented before the next election.

After more than three years in power, the Labour government has failed to deliver on its pre-election promise to modernise the NHS to meet the needs of the 21st century. This means that radical reforms will have to be implemented before the next election.

And the government has placed nurses firmly at the centre of its agenda for change: the NHS is increasingly seen as unresponsive to patients' needs and a recent £13bn cash injection has been tied to reform, with patient power a central theme.

For respiratory nurses, this presents an opportunity to develop new roles and methods of working that put patients at the heart of the care process. Those with respiratory diseases make up a substantial proportion of the one in three adults who live with chronic illness. While responding to the needs of the acute patient, the focus for nursing must be on the need to develop services in line with issues such as access, equity, information, empowerment, care and support.

The development of new roles, including that of nurse consultants, will expand the nursing career structure and places nurses at the centre of the process of reform.

While recognising the need for increased flexibility between roles and between the primary, secondary and tertiary health care sectors, nurses should also develop nursing, not merely take on tasks that other professions are unable or unwilling to do.

What nurses need to understand is their own strengths and limitations. There is a clear requirement for strong nurse leaders and the correlation between good nursing care, staff morale and effective nursing leadership needs to be strengthened. While the opportunity for role development is to be encouraged, the bottom line should always be whether or not it leads to improvements in patient care.

Both health care and nursing exist in a political arena, and if public support for service provision is to be maintained the NHS needs to embrace modernisation and become more effective in meeting patients' needs. What has to be determined is whether nurses are prepared and committed enough to meet this challenge.

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