The Department of Health has pledged to create a new post dedicated to nursing and allied health profession policy issues in its reformed structure, after a key advisory team was scrapped.
Ministers had previously promised to build “new networks” and work closely with the chief nursing officer to ensure the DH received expert advice, following the demise of its nursing policy unit.
But this position now appears to have been improved, with the government saying there will be a “new post” that will liaise with the CNO and “ensure DH is sighted” on all policy affecting nurses.
As revealed earlier this year by Nursing Times, the DH announced and subsequently went through with plans to axe its nursing, midwifery and allied health professions policy unit.
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The move was a consequence of the wider “DH 2020” cost cutting drive, which will see the DH lose approximately 700 posts in a bid to reduce its running costs by 30% over the next five years.
But the loss of the unit, previously headed up by David Foster, led senior members of the profession to raise concerns about a lack of vital nursing expertise and influence over policy at the highest level.
A petition calling for the nursing directorate to be retained at the Department of Health was subsequently set up on the parliament website and passed 10,000 signatures last month.
Under parliamentary rules, the government must respond in writing to all petitions that get more than 10,000 signatures.
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The DH this week responded to the petition, claiming that it was “absolutely committed to ensuring the voice of nursing, midwifery and AHPs is heard loud and clear in all of our policy making”.
It reiterated earlier statements that its new approach was to “flexibly access professional advice” from a wide range of sources, including arms-length bodies, regulators and professional bodies, rather than from a “fixed standing team of internal advisers”.
“It’s positive that a new nursing post will form part of the new structure”
It also restated that the CNO for England – currently Jane Cummings – was the “chief nursing adviser to the department”.
But it added: “To ensure that the importance and profile of nursing and allied health professional issues is maintained, the department will include a post specifically on nursing and AHPs policy issues, including parliamentary business, in its the new structure.
“This new post will be a close liaison point with the CNO and chief AHP officer, with a remit to ensure DH is sighted on the totality of policy as it affects nurses and AHPs,” the department said.
The Royal College of Nursing welcomed confirmation that the DH would include a post specifically on nursing and AHPs policy issues, including parliamentary business, in the new structure.
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Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said: “It’s positive that a new nursing post will form part of the new structure.
“We look forward to working together with the DH to ensure that the nursing profession is at the centre of designing policy which impacts on patient care,” she said.
Ms Davies added: “Nursing leadership, at the highest levels, is the key to achieving the best possible healthcare in the UK.
“The nursing profession needs to have a strong voice government in order to prevent crises in care,” she said.
In the seemingly unlikely event that the petition goes on to attain 100,000 signatures by 21 December – it currently has 10,393 names – the petition will be considered for debate in parliament.