The Department of Health will build “new networks” and work closely with the chief nursing officer to ensure it receives expert advice following the demise of its nursing policy unit, claim ministers.
Health minister Ben Gummer yesterday issued a series of statements defending plans to close the unit in response to Dr Sarah Wollaston, chair of the cross-party health select committee.
As previously reported by Nursing Times, the decision to scrap the Nursing, Midwifery and Allied Health Professions Policy Unit, which will see the loss of seven staff, has been made as part of wider cost-cutting measures.
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However, nursing leaders have expressed anger and concern at the move, arguing it will mean nursing no longer has a voice at the highest level of policy-making.
Last month Dr Wollaston, Conservative MP for Totnes, submitted a series of written questions to the department on the controversial plans being introduced under the “DH2020” restructuring programme.
She asked what steps the government planned to take to “ensure nurses” were consulted on future DH policies after the unit’s closure and what “mechanisms” would be put in place “ensure ministers receive impartial nursing advice”.
In response, Mr Gummer said: “The department’s approach to ensuring that nurses are consulted about future policies is to flexibly access professional advice from a wide range of sources, including arms-length bodies, regulators, stakeholders and professional bodies.
“The department’s policy teams will establish new networks and relationships with stakeholders and partners and collaborate with the CNO to ensure systems are in place to secure advice when developing evidence based policy,” he said.
“The department’s policy teams will establish new networks and relationships”
He added that the changes at the DH “do not affect the role” of the CNO for England Jane Cummings, who “already advises, and will continue to advise all ministers and the department on the range of nursing and midwifery issues”.
Dr Wollaston also queried whether the plans to shut down the unit were discussed with DH staff and external stakeholders, after concerns were raised about a lack of consultation over the proposals.
In addition, she asked what steps were planned to ensure that UK nursing was “effectively” represented at the World Health Assembly, and other European Union and international forums.
Reiterating an earlier DH statement, Mr Gummer said: “All of the changes we are making through the resulting DH2020 programme are being done transparently and communicated to staff.”
Dr Sarah Wollaston
He said the DH was “changing the way it works to deliver its essential work for the government while achieving efficiency savings”.
Regarding international representation, he said the WHA was “usually” attended by the chief medical officer and that, while the CNO had attended “in the past”, she had not been part of the DH delegation in “recent years”.
However, he said Public Health England’s chief nurse – Professor Viv Bennett – “works with and contributes” to international nursing development with the World Health Organization, including attendance at the WHO’s nursing forum.
He added: “There is a European Chief Nursing Officers forum which government chief nurse advisors attend. It is for the chief nursing officer for England to attend this meeting. In her absence one of the other UK chief nursing officers should attend.”