The government has given its support to making ward managers supervisory to clinical practice – saying trusts will need to give a “valid explanation” for not doing so.
The argument for ward sisters and charge nurses to be counted as supervisory – or supernumerary to the ward or team’s nursing provision – has been made on numerous occasions before.
Last month’s Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust Public Inquiry report called for ward managers to “operate in a supervisory capacity… except in emergencies”.
In its initial response to the report, the government highlighted examples of supervisory status at four foundation trusts: Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh, County Durham and Darlington, Central Manchester University Hospitals and Salford Royal.
It said: “There is a good body of evidence to demonstrate that supervisory roles for ward managers are important to delivering oversight to all aspects of care on a ward and in a community, from cleanliness to allocation of staff.
“We recognise that many ward managers currently have the same caseload as other nurses on the ward, which does not always allow them time to perform the full scope of the supervisory role.”
The government stopped short of making supervisory status compulsory, but argued that trusts were being encouraged to do so by December, as part of the national nursing strategy Compassion in Practice.
It also highlighted supervisory ward managers as an example of “known good practice” which would now be looked for by hospital inspectors under a policy of a “comply or explain”.
“Where there are well-established practices that benefit patients, inspectors will expect to see these being used across hospitals, or a valid explanation given if this is not the case,” it said.
Professor Anne Marie Rafferty, dean and chair of nursing policy at King’s College London, said: “I think this was an opportunity for a flagship moment to strengthen the role of the ward sister.
We said the same things about strengthening the role in the previous Prime Minister’s Commission on the Future of Nursing and Midwifery. If some of those recommendations had been taken forward, it might have mitigated some of the problems that we now face,” she said.
Sign our Speak Out Safely petition to support a transparent and open NHS. We are calling on the government to implement recommendations from the Francis report that will increase protection for staff who raise concerns about patient care.