Chief nursing officer for England Dame Christine Beasley is to retire in March it has been announced.
Dame Christine, who has been in office since 2004, made the announcement today at her chief nursing officer’s summit in London.
However, the Department of Health said only an interim replacement for Dame Christine would be put in place, rather than a permanent appointment.
In a statement, it said: “Arrangements are being made for an interim CNO and will be announced in due course.”
This is likely to fuel fears that the chief nursing officer role could be removed or diminished, as reported by Nursing Times last week.
Under Dame Christine’s tenure, nurses have been instrumental in helping the NHS win its so far successful battle to bring down rates of the healthcare associated infections MRSA and C. difficile.
She has also overseen major changes in nursing careers, including the move to a graduate only profession, through her leadership of the Modernising Nursing Careers programme and the Prime Minister’s Commission on the Future of Nursing and Midwifery.
She was also charged with leading the previous government’s efforts to eliminate mixed sex accommodation, which has been only partially successful to date.
Speaking at the CNO summit today, Dame Christine said: “I am honoured to have been chief nursing officer for England for the last six years.
“During that time I have met thousands of nurses and midwives and seen at first hand their dedication, passion, and innovative approaches to improving the care of patients and support to communities. I know the positive impact they make on a daily basis to the people who use our services.”
She added: “Whilst I know the future will provide some tough challenges, I believe that nurses and midwives are well placed to seize the opportunities. Without their leadership it will not be possible to fulfil the expectations of patients and the public for the NHS, public health and social care services.”
Health secretary Andrew Lansley praised Dame Christine’s “high visibility” style of leadership.
He said: “She has maintained a high visibility across the NHS, undertaking hundreds of visits to frontline services and speaking engagements, meeting patients and staff and always promoting the importance of the patient experience.
“Her ease of manner and depth of knowledge have given her an unrivalled reputation as an accessible and effective nursing leader.”
NHS chief executive Sir David Nicholson described Dame Christine as a “great colleague”.
He said: “I will miss her wisdom and sense of humour, and wish her all the best in her retirement.”
Royal College of Nursing chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter said: “I would like to pay tribute to Dame Christine, not only for her last six years as chief nursing officer, but also for her long career as an advocate for nursing and quality patient care.
“Nurses will value her emphasis on reducing hospital infections and tackling mixed sex wards, and the RCN will miss her tireless hard work and leadership.”
Unison head of Nursing Gail Adams said: “Chris is an inspirational nursing leader, who has long championed the role of nurses and our vital contribution to quality patient care.
“Early into her appointment she was asked to reduce MRSA rates and, on the back of that success, went on to cut the number of hospital acquired infections. In her spare time she continued her work to eliminate mixed sex hospital accommodation! To do all that work successfully, you have to be a good manager and be able to inspire others. Chris did this by demonstrating all the best qualities of leadership.
“She may well be Dame Christine to some, but to the profession she represents, she is simply Chris. I have no doubt that she will be missed.”
Dame Christine was made a CBE in 2002 and received her DBE in June 2008.
She was awarded an honorary professorship in nursing by Thames Valley University in 1997 and is the Pro Chancellor at the University.
She has also been awarded honorary doctorates from the Universities of Nottingham, Wolverhampton, Northumbria, Sheffield Hallam, Plymouth, and City University, London.
Additionally, she is a fellow of the Queen’s Nursing Institute and a trustee of Marie Curie Cancer Care.