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National research project to focus on developing ward leaders

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The regulator NHS Improvement has appointed a nursing academic as a research fellow for national study on developing ward leaders.

Dr Rachel Muir, who has a background in critical care nursing and clinical research, will work with principal investigator Dr Jacqueline McKenna and nursing fellow Catherine Pelley.

“The role of the ward leader has always been pivotal to the delivery of safe and effective patient care in acute hospitals”

Ruth Harris

Its aim is to determine whether a peer shadowing programme is an effective for supporting and developing new ward leaders as senior nursing leads in general medical and surgical acute wards.

Specifically, the study will assess the impact of pairing new ward leaders – typically at band 7 – with an experienced peer in a shadowing arrangement.

It will focus on factors such as ward culture, workforce issues such as burnout and the practice environment, as well on the confidence and effectiveness of the newly appointed ward leaders.

The work will inform the regulator’s wider professional development programme for supporting nursing and midwifery staff in “cultivating clinical leadership at all levels”, said NHS Improvement.

The study is being funded by the Burdett Trust for Nursing and will be overseen by Professor Ruth Harris from King’s College London and an independent trial steering committee.

“This study will be crucial to understanding the complex support needs of those that are newly appointed”

Ruth May

Dr Muir has joined NHS Improvement on a full time secondment basis from College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust for the duration of the study.

After graduating with a BA Hons in conflict resolution, she completed a Masters in Research and PhD in social sciences and was later awarded a Florence Nightingale Travel Scholarship.

She recently completed a research fellowship after a secondment from her post as senior matron for the National Institute for Health Research’s clinical research facility at University College London Hospitals.

Speaking on her secondment, Dr Muir said: “I know from experience the transformative impact that ward leaders can have on culture, team working and the patient experience.

“Whilst it is widely recognised that supporting the transition and development of new ward leaders is both important and complex, there is relatively little evidence on what types of support work best, for whom and why,” she said.

She added: “This study will develop and test a shadowing intervention, and will provide a significant contribution to our understanding of the developmental process and transition of new ward leaders.”

Ruth May, executive director of nursing at NHS Improvement, said Dr Muir would be supporting a “critical piece of research” for the health service regulator.

“Ward leaders are the clinical leaders of our future, so this study will be crucial to understanding the complex support needs of those that are newly appointed,” she said.

“We are pleased to support this important development and leadership programme for new ward leaders”

Shirley Baines

Professor Ruth Harris, from King’s College London, which is also a partner in the study, said: “The role of the ward leader has always been pivotal to the delivery of safe and effective patient care in acute hospitals.

“It has changed and evolved over time in response to developments in healthcare delivery contexts,” she said. “However, there is still very little evidence about how to support the preparation of newly appointed ward leaders.

“This study led by NHS Improvement and funded by the Burdett Trust for Nursing will begin to fill this gap,” she added.

Burdett Trust chief executive Shirley Baines said: “We are pleased to support this important development and leadership programme for new ward leaders.

“The collective goal is to enable and empower frontline managers to get the best from their people in the pursuit of delivering the very best in care and the insights drawn from this piece of research will help inform that ambition,” she noted.

NHS Improvement said trusts that are interested in becoming a host site for the study can contact Dr Jacqueline McKenna via jacqueline.mckenna@nhs.net

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Readers' comments (1)

  • This is good, but surely leadership support should begin at band 6? This is when leadership behaviours will be learned. I've seen some good nurses promoted to band 6, & end up terrible leaders, because they had no support or education on leadership skills. These days you can get a ward sister post after being qualified for only a year, then left to get on with it. Not a recipie for good future ward managers.

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