Last week Peter Carter left his position as chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, abdicating his throne to his colleague Janet Davies.
He’s led the college through some of the roughest times in its history. It faced near financial ruin when he took up the post, and he used his skills as a former chief executive to bring the college back to rude fiscal health.
But he also had to lead a profession working through severe austerity measures.
The pay restraint raised pressure for industrial action from some union members, although most didn’t vote in favour of downing tools and picking up placards.
“The pay restraint raised pressure for industrial action from some union members”
The college - and Dr Carter personally - faced criticism in the Francis Report into care failings at Mid Staffordshire.
He acknowledged he had written a letter praising the care at Mid Staffs just before the scandal broke, but always claimed that he saw good nursing, and did not visit the “problem” wards.
Like Dr Carter I frequently visit hospitals and understand his point - we aren’t there to do an inspection but to meet and talk to nurses, so there’s always a risk that you’re carefully steered away from trouble spots.
The Francis report acknowledged that nursing care was excellent in parts of the hospital, so it’s not necessarily unreasonable to go away with a good impression.
His style was to negotiate as much as possible - to be on the inside helping the decision be made, and to apply pressure to MPs.
“He didn’t shy away from firing warning shots at Jeremy Hunt and David Cameron about a range of subjects that mattered to nursing”
His detractors claim he was too cosy with those in power. And yet he didn’t shy away from firing warning shots at Jeremy Hunt and David Cameron about a range of subjects that mattered to nursing - pay, unsocial hours, pensions, workforce planning, mandatory staffing levels and the recent rules around some overseas nurses being forced to leave if they don’t earn over £35,000.
“Since the Conservative government came into power, safe staffing guidance has seemed in jeopardy”
As Janet takes over at the RCN, many of those challenges still exist, and she will need a loud voice and a strong resolve to fight for what nursing needs.
Since the Conservative government came into power, safe staffing guidance has seemed in jeopardy, there are no additional nurses on the wards, the pay restraint continues and homegrown nurses are still in short supply.
This is not a time for giving up, but for digging in. Good luck to Janet. Everyone at Nursing Times is right behind any plans she has to make the profession more vocal and more visible.
Jenni Middleton, editor
Follow me on Twitter: @nursingtimesed