The final piece of the Department of Health nursing jigsaw puzzle fell into place last week with the announcement that Jane Cummings is taking on the chief nursing role on the NHS Commissioning Board.
She’ll join Professor Viv Bennett, who, as director of nursing in the DH, is spearheading the government’s public health ambitions, with David Foster acting as deputy director, and overseeing workforce, education and research.
Nursing needs this structure to work and provide a powerful profile. Concerns have been raised about the dilution of the CNO’s influence under the reforms. It is down to these incumbents to prove them wrong.
Professor Bennett’s to-do list includes improving the nation’s health and advising the government how to do that. It’s a timely role, but hard to prove its success. After all, how do you measure health problems that have been prevented?
Ms Cummings is expected to become the lead nurse figure for nursing. And that is exactly what is needed – ambassadors who will speak up for nurses when the chips are down. The nursing voice has been all but inaudible while we’ve been waiting for this structure.
General secretary and chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing Peter Carter has been admirably juggling media balls and representing nurses on pensions, dignity reports, CQC findings and issues arising from Mid Staffs. If he’d had a tachometer measuring how much airtime he’d clocked up on Radio 4’s Today programme and Newsnight et al, he’d probably have to take the next nine months off. He must be glad of the new DH appointments.
It was fantastic to see Professor Bennett speaking up about school nurses recently. Let’s keep this momentum up. The profession needs credible nurses to represent those walking the wards or caring in the community. Someone needs to lead nursing through the stormy waters ahead: the Francis report, changes in the Nursing and Midwifery Council and the new NHS landscape, as well as the erosion of district nurse numbers, which could seriously damage care provision, something Nursing Times has been highlighting to the government and the profession in recent weeks.
Politicians spend half an hour in a hospital and believe they can magically transform nursing. They can’t. The profession needs real experts, people who have been nurses, managed nurses and who talk to nurses every day to advise on excellent care, improve the profession’s standing and restore the public’s confidence in nursing.