The news last week that the chief nursing officer for England role could be realigned to sit across both NHS Improvement and NHS England when Jane Cummings departs her role could weaken nursing’s voice further at a senior level.
Hoping that doesn’t happen is not enough – the profession needs to make its voice heard on the matter.
Certainly, the move is unlikely to sit easily with the Royal College of Nursing. It has long held the belief that more senior nurses are needed in leadership roles in government arms-length bodies, not fewer. In fact, its chief executive Janet Davies made reference to this in her speech at RCN Congress earlier this month in Belfast. She has said the Department of Health and Social Care should have its own CNO to influence policy and guide ministers directly, as there is for medicine. Ms Cummings has always contended that she has sufficient influence with ministers, and that she does much behind the scenes that is not necessarily made public.
“Some might believe the profession needs more voices in ministers’ ears”
But she has also had to contend with what is considered by many trust chief nurses as the worst workforce crisis ever. And with the removal of the bursary causing a further drop in student application numbers, you can see why some might believe the profession needs more voices in ministers’ ears to articulate the profession’s contribution.
Having one senior nurse at national level might make it clearer who is in charge – and for that person to actually take charge. Many chief nurses have voiced to me that they are not sure who is leading and who they are accountable to in the current structure. While Ms Cummings has always contended that it is her as CNO, there are many who believe that NHS Improvement, as the regulator, is increasingly the body calling the shots.
“Nursing needs a strong voice and a leader who recognises that there is one hell of a challenge right here”
What nursing needs is a simplified structure with a clear chain of command. Above all else, what it needs is a strong voice and a leader who recognises that there is one hell of a challenge right here and now – and that is workforce.
While nursing directors are struggling to fill rosters and on their knees begging for staff to help them provide care, the profession doesn’t need catchy slogans or mantras. It needs practical help with recruitment and retention, and building a pipeline of new nurses coming into the healthcare space. Hopefully, the CNO’s last major project before she leaves in around six months will provide this help. This will see her lead a major new recruitment and retention campaign to coincide with 70th anniversary of NHS.
“Leaders’ voices need to be loud, strong, clear and united”
My own view is that it doesn’t really matter if the national role is either one or several. As long as the voices are loud, strong, clear and united on fixing the one issue that is most important to nursing right now. And that is making sure we have enough nurses – now and in the future.
I hope the new role or roles leading the profession can do that – because we’ve never needed it more.