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New chief nursing officer for England starts in combined role

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A new chief nursing officer for England has started in post this week, coinciding with the launch of the new long-term plan for the health service.

Dr Ruth May took over on Monday from her predecessor Professor Jane Cummings as England’s CNO.

Her day began early, with 3.20am start in order to be in Liverpool in time for the official launch of the NHS Long Term Plan by the prime minister at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital.

The blueprint, which includes a chapter on workforce issues, will be followed by an overarching implementation plan and also one specifically on staffing matters later this year.

Prior to becoming CNO, Dr May was executive director of nursing at the regulator NHS Improvement – a role she had held since its creation in April 2016. She was also one of England’s two deputy chief nursing officers, along with Hilary Garratt.

However, in a break with the previous national nursing leadership structure, Dr May will work across both NHS England and NHS Improvement.

Under the new move, she will fulfil the CNO role as part of a new joint leadership team between the two government arms’-length bodies, to be called the NHS Executive Group.

The group is set to hold its first meeting this month, with a range of new national directors expected to start work by April.

The structural overhaul is understood to have allowed the two organisations to cut their running costs by a further 20%.

Professor Cummings, who was based at NHS England only, lobbied to combine senior nursing roles across NHS England and NHS Improvement, as previously reported by Nursing Times.

Previous senior roles held by Dr May include regional chief nurse and nurse director for the Midlands and East region of NHS England, and chief executive of The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn, and Mid-Essex Hospital Services NHS Trust.

She has also worked as acting director of nursing at Barnet Hospital, and has held top positions with Havering Primary Care Trust.

Dr May began her career with a variety of nursing roles before becoming a theatre sister at Frimley Park Hospital in Camberley.

Meanwhile, Professor Cummings stood down on 4 January after more than six years in post. During her tenure, she oversaw the introduction of several major national documents for the profession. 

This began in December 2012 with the publication of the Compassion in Practice national nursing strategy, which incorporated the “6Cs” of nursing. This was followed in 2016 by its successor Leading Change, Adding Value, which is the current national framework for nursing, midwifery and care staff.

Read about her views on her achievements and challenges while CNO in the latest issue of Nursing Times.

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