Nurses are calling on the government to retain the chief nursing officer role amid fears it will be removed or diminished when Dame Christine Beasley retires.
Dame Christine is expected to step down next March and several senior sources have told Nursing Times there are strong concerns that the government will remove the chief nursing officer post as part of its reforms.
If we don’t have a senior representative understanding the nursing world we’re going to end up with some rather strange decisions being made
There may be a senior national nurse as a member of the proposed national commissioning board, but they are likely to have less influence and profile, sources said.
University College London Hospitals Foundation Trust’s outgoing nurse director Louise Boden said there were good reasons for the government to have a strong national nursing representative.
She said: “Nursing is too important to the economy, and too embedded in the British psyche and consciousness, to be left to individual hospitals.”
Ms Boden said if the post was axed it would place more responsibility on individual nursing directors, because “nursing directors would be accountable in a way that at the moment partly goes through the DH.”
Another experienced nursing director said removing the CNO role would make it more difficult for nursing directors to escalate concerns.
Appointed to the role in 2004, Dame Christine is one of the most senior civil servants in the Department of Health and earns £140,000-£145,000 a year in basic pay.
She advises the government and international organisations on nursing policy and provides professional leadership to nurses across England.
Foundation of Nursing Leadership head Dave Dawes said it was important to have a senior nurse at the heart of government, rather than in an external body such as the commissioning board, to counter civil servants’ lack of nursing knowledge.
He said: “Nursing is by far the largest element of the workforce and accounts for most of the expenditure in the NHS. If we don’t have a senior representative understanding the nursing world we’re going to end up with some rather strange decisions being made.”
A very high profile role was needed, he said, because “there don’t seem to be prominent nursing directors who are prepared to speak out anymore”.
Royal College of Nursing director of policy Howard Catton said a senior nursing leader was needed at the commissioning board as well as in the DH.
Without this, he said he would “worry about both bodies being able to fulfil their functions and responsibilities”.
There was no reason why the DH could not state its commitment, in principle, to retaining the CNO post, he added.
But asked by Nursing Times about the future of the CNO role, including whether it would continue after Dame Christine’s departure, a DH spokeswoman would only say: “Dame Christine Beasley has yet to make an official announcement about her retirement.”