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Chief nursing officer to extend tenure

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The chief nursing officer for England has confirmed she will stay on in the post till October.

Dame Christine Beasley made the announcement that she would be delaying her retirement at the Nursing Times Summit in Berkshire today.

She told delegates at the conference that after finally steps down, the CNO role will be split into two posts to reflect Department of Health restructuring and NHS reform plans being introduced by the government.   

There will be two senior nursing posts – a director of nursing in the Department of Health who will oversee public health, and a chief nursing officer sitting on the new national commissioning board, the body which will be responsible for NHS spending on behalf of the government.

Dame Christine said: “The roles will be complementary. We’re still working out what the relationship will be between them.

“I think it’s absolutely great that we’ve got leadership in both parts of the system. These are the first posts of the new system to be announced. I think that’s fantastic that nurses are at the front.”

Nursing Times revealed in November that this was likely to happen. But there has been increasing speculation over recent weeks over the future of the country’s top nursing job, as the set date for her retirement drew closer with no announcement having been made on a successor, or successors. The roles will be advertised in late spring or early summer.

Previously there had even been concerns raised within the profession that the CNO role was to be axed altogether – though these were dismissed by health minister Anne Milton at a conference last year.

Nursing Times reported on Tuesday that the DH was looking at delaying Dame Christine’s departure, which had originally been announced as set for this month.

Dame Christine will go part time from the end of March until October, doing two and a half days a week and working flexibly. She will be mainly focusing on professional leadership and, as part of that, working on what the national commissioning board will look like with NHS chief executive Sir David Nicholson, who is also chief executive designate of the new board. She will also continue to lead on the health visitor programme.

Most of the other DH work programmes she has been leading are coming to an end – for example the successful healthcare associated infection programme that she is credited with leading is due to end in March.

DH director for social care David Behan will take over her role on children, family and maternity services.

Confirmation of continued nurse involvement at senior DH levels, and that Dame Christine would be staying to oversee them embedded, was welcomed by senior nursing figures.

Unison head of nursing Gail Adams said: “It’s only proper that the new chief nursing officer will have a place on the Commissioning Board. This sets the right precedent. To work well, the Commissioning board should be multi-disciplinary to reflect the team approach that delivers patient care.

“The creation of two posts will help keep these important voices for nursing independent. We want to make sure both posts have equal weight in the Department of Health reporting structure.”

Royal College of Nursing general secretary and chief executive Peter Carter said: “It’s brilliant news. It will send out a very positive message to nurses in England.”

Nursing and Midwifery Council registrar and chief executive Dickon Weir-Hughes said: “It’s good news for nurses and midwives in England, and also the public. We look forward to working with Christine till October, and her successors.”  

Unite’s lead officer for nursing Barrie Brown added: “We welcome it wholeheartedly. The idea that the national commissioning board could operate without that is unthinkable and we want to see that replicated at a local level with consortia.”

A seat on the board is now tweeting at @Aseatontheboard, follow for all the latest campaign news! Ensure nurses have a seat on consortia boards!

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