Concerns have been raised that a new post at the Department of Health created in the wake of the disbanding of its entire nursing and midwifery policy unit will not be able to provide the high-level advice required for future government decisions.
Earlier this month, in response to a petition calling for the nursing directorate at the DH to be retained, the government said it would introduce a new post “specifically on nursing and allied health professional policy issues, including parliamentary business, in the new structure”.
“We are removing the amount of resource we have to inform the government”
The government said the post would be a “close liaison point” with the chief nursing officer and chief AHP officer “with a remit to ensure DH is sighted on the totality of policy as it affects nurses and AHPs”.
The petition was started in response to government plans to sweep away its nursing and midwifery advisory unit as part of a wider programme to reduce its workforce size. Although the move to disband the unit was not prevented by the petition, news that a new post would be created for nursing policy was greeted as a “little victory”.
However, there has subsequently been speculation that the seniority of the job will not be to the same level as those nursing posts that previously sat within the policy unit.
It has also been suggested there will not be a requirement for the person in post to have a nursing or AHP background.
“Following the petition, this new post seemed like it might have been a little victory”
Nursing and workforce experts expressed have concerns to Nursing Times and stressed the importance of ministers having access to high-level expert insight on nursing issues.
They said it was especially important at a time of “big and important policy shifts”, such as the removal of student bursaries and the introduction of nursing associates.
“I would hope to see this post is at least on the same level as the nursing officers who previously offered government advice,” said Professor Jane Ball, nurse research fellow at the University of Southampton.
“It would be concerning to me if it wasn’t at that sort of level and if there wasn’t stipulation that the post was a registrant – ideally nursing and then also someone in another post for AHPs, so we are not just relying on one perspective,” she said.
She warned that “we are removing the amount of resource we have to inform the government about how decisions are made about policies” at a time of “big and important policy shifts” affecting nursing.
Professor Ball also noted concerns about the shift from an entire unit of seven staff members to just one person providing advice to ministers on nursing and AHP issues.
“Whatever this post is, it is disappointing that it’s a single post – and that can’t possibly compensate for the loss of a more substantial unit,” she said.
“Clearly the amount they are going to be able to do is going to be considerably less than a team would be able to do,” she added.
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Jill Maben, professor of nursing research at King’s College London, echoed the concerns.
“Following the petition, this new post seemed like it might have been a little victory. But if, as it’s been suggested, it isn’t a nurse or someone really holding the nursing portfolio and not really someone speaking up for nurses or advising on policy about nurses – the biggest workforce in the NHS – then that is very disappointing,” she said.
“To have policies made for nurses and about nurses with no nursing expertise in a policy unit in a department seems to me a recipe for poor policy making,” she added.
Professor Maben also highlighted the challenges of one post holder having to advise on both nursing and AHP policy.
“Nursing… is a very broad church – so if you’re a learning disability nurse you’re not necessarily needing the same policy as mental health nurses or adult nurses – so to lump the role in with AHPs, which also covers a whole range of professional groups who also have their own specific needs, seems to be diluting the expertise in the role,” she said.
A spokeswoman for the DH said no further details were available about the new post as the process of its creation was ongoing.
“We are absolutely committed to ensuring the voice of nursing is heard loud and clear in all of our policy making.
“The new post, which recognises the importance of nursing, is part of our DH 2020 structure. It will be open to any official to apply for over the autumn,” she said.