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'Nurses have a pivotal role to play in delivering the plan'

Ruth May
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On my first day as chief nursing officer for England in January, I was on a very early train to Liverpool, to attend the launch of the NHS Long Term Plan at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital. 

It felt like the perfect time to begin my new role as the professional lead for nursing, midwifery and care roles across the system.

The long-term plan gives us the frame for the next 10 years in terms of health and care priorities across the NHS, and it’s clear that nurses, midwives and care staff will play a pivotal role in transforming care as we look to the future.

In my first weeks as CNO for England, I’ve been doing lots of visits across the system, to see first-hand the commitment and care of our staff in different care settings.

From Blackpool to Chelmsford and acute trusts to prison services, I have been shadowing our staff and hearing their ideas, as well as meeting with patients and service users.

And I’ve been impressed by the work people are doing, leading care in such varied and sometimes challenging settings.

I’ve been fortunate enough to see up close how our collective expertise will help deliver change where it is needed within communities, supporting people to lead better, healthier lives.

This is the basis of the long-term plan and where nursing and midwifery leadership – we’re all part of #teamCNO – will come into its own to shape these outcomes.

Being part of the frontline has been such a strong focus of my career as a chief executive and chief nurse – it’s the power of the team that can deliver real change, working with a strong sense of shared purpose and a collective voice.

And we have the evidence to back our expertise. Nursing, midwifery and care staff have already been leading on transformational change across the system as an integral part of the Five Year Forward View.

As professionals, we are able to work across traditional boundaries, and bring expertise in leading care and delivering change for our communities.

We have now started sharing this progress through a national Atlas of Shared Learning, developed to demonstrate the quantifiable contribution our professions have made to transformational change for patients, individuals and populations.

These case studies include:

Nursing and midwifery are two of the most fulfilling, varied and rewarding careers we can offer to people with the expertise and skills that will make a real difference. We must continue to encourage pride in our professions, and improve the perception of these careers, building on the work of Nursing Now England and the Transforming the Perceptions of Midwifery programme, as part of the long-term plan focus on workforce.

Nurses are clinicians, leaders and advocates, with highly complex skills and knowledge and these programmes will help us shine a light on this, with ambassadors drawn from across different care settings.

This work to improve perceptions can and should start at a really early age – I was proud to launch a pilot for gender neutral ‘future nurse’ uniforms for primary school children in Birmingham last month.

They are our future and it’s within our gift to shape the narrative around nursing, midwifery and care careers as part of the wider #teamCNO movement. I hope we planted a seed with these children about nursing as a future career – they were delighted with the uniforms and it was a real privilege to talk with them about how they could reach their potential.

As CNO, I want to harness this sense of collective leadership and momentum moving forward, especially as we welcome and support more students and new roles, such as nursing associates, into our workforce, alongside continued and improved support for our existing staff.

We know that workforce is a key enabler for the long-term plan and we need to get it right. The long-term plan has a really strong focus on giving NHS staff the backing they need, and while the challenge ahead of us is substantial, there are real opportunities to make improvements.

The national workforce group, led by NHS England, NHS Improvement and Health Education England, is already up and running, and this is a key focus for me as CNO, recognising the tremendous contribution our professions bring to health and care settings across England.

As nurses and midwives, we have a pivotal role to play in delivering the long-term plan and positioning our workforce for the future.

As CNO, I’m proud to help lead our collective voice as we navigate these opportunities together.

Ruth May is chief nursing officer for England

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