Ward sisters and managers are the individuals who can make the greatest amount of difference to the morale of staff and therefore the quality of care provided in hospitals.
That’s also the view of Jan Sobieraj of the NHS Leadership Academy.
He was voicing his belief in the power and influence of ward sisters at last week’s excellent Finegreen Associates Raising the Bar conference on leadership in Manchester.
Mr Sobieraj recounted a story of how two wards in the same hospital, separated by just a few feet, could be entirely different: one grimy, the other spotless; one calm, the other chaotic and disorganised. The difference, he contended, is always the leader.
Here here. Ward sisters have a tough job - the people left to accept responsibility for anything that may go wrong on the ward, while often left out of the loop on decisions made by senior managers that may directly impact on the care they are providing.
Those who successfully tread the path between managing the expectations of patients and their relatives and those of their superiors do well. But the health service should do more to support people in this challenging role.
Ward sisters don’t just set a standard and ensure staff have the discipline to stick to it, they create a culture that determines the morale of the team
Today’s patients demand a better service than even 10 years ago. They are fuelled by social media and the internet’s ready supply of information - and sometimes misinformation. And all this against a backdrop of scarce resources and financial constraint.
Ward managers, though, along with other clinical leaders, are the most suited to really reassure the patient. The public still trusts people who have an understanding of clinical care, over those they see, rightly or wrongly, as just “the suits”.
It is vital that these managers are supported and developed. Mr Sobieraj spoke at the conference about how some people had recommended that he focus his NHS Leadership Academy efforts and money on training the top stratum of managers. However, he argued that improving the leaders at ward sister level would create the greatest amount of difference - to staff and patients.
Ward sisters don’t just set a standard and ensure staff have the discipline to stick to it, they create a culture that determines the morale of the team. There is a large evidence base that happier staff are more productive and stay longer in their jobs.
The academy is soon to be seeking ward sisters for its training programme. Let’s hope it is successful in producing brave, visionary and supportive sisters, because they are vital to the NHS’s future.
Jenni Middleton, editor
firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me on Twitter @nursingtimesed