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Nurse leaders must 'strengthen profession's voice'

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Top nurses have called upon leaders in the profession to strengthen the sector’s voice at a political level, with one claiming “Carry On” film stereotypes about nursing still remain in places.

At the Nursing Times Leaders 2015 event this week -  which saw 48 members of the profession recognised for their contribution to leadership – experts discussed how to nurture leaders and attract them into senior posts.

A recent investigation by Nursing Times found trusts across England have been taking months to fill permanent board-level nursing posts, and that one in eight had a chief nurse or nursing director vacancy this summer.

“I don’t think sometimes those in the highest government roles understand what’s happening at a provider level”

Sue Smith

University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay Foundation Trust chief nurse Sue Smith questioned whether politicians understood the impact regulation had on trusts and the morale of nurses in senior roles or those considering them.

“We have to make sure our voice is heard at the highest level. I don’t think sometimes those in the highest government roles understand what’s happening at a provider level,” she said.

“It’s very difficult to keep enabling people and giving them the freedom [to progress] when you have that level of regulation,” she added.

The Department of Health’s head of the nursing, midwifery and allied health professions policy unit, David Foster, who was also part of the panel discussion, said a unified nursing “voice” - particularly outside large NHS trusts - was often “lost”.

He claimed ministers received “a lot” of information about nursing and midwifery, but that much of this was based on popular film stereotypes or national newspaper coverage about the role.

“There is a huge amount heard about nursing and midwifery when it comes to MPs and ministers but a lot of that is predicated on the power of the Carry On films, on [Carry On actor] Hattie Jacques  and the Daily Mail,” he said.

“That’s what nursing is up against in the lay-world, often,” he added.

“There is a huge amount heard about nursing and midwifery when it comes to MPs and ministers but a lot of that is predicated on the power of the Carry On films”

David Foster

Mr Foster said: “So we’ve got to be much more profoundly sophisticated about playing into the agenda and coming from left of field and saying ‘Yes that might be your view of nursing, but this is how sophisticated and complicated  it is now’”.

He noted there was now a “huge” effort being made to ensure policy makers spend time with those on the frontline, for whom they are creating new standards and guidance.

“I applaud the fact that is coming and starting to make a difference,” he said.

Fellow panel member Queen’s Nursing Institute chief executive Crystal Oldman echoed his concerns about the disconnect between policymakers and the frontline.

“One of the things [the QNI] has felt is there hasn’t been sufficient focus  on the role of nursing in primary care.

“It’s been quite rightly about the lack of GPs, but there hasn’t been a focus on how nursing can support primary care and is doing that every day,” she said.

She said the QNI had been inviting senior policy makers to shadow its community nurses.

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