Nurses are to sit on “clinical senates”, influential new bodies that will advise local NHS service planning, under proposed changes to the Health and Social Care Bill.
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The senates are part of a range of measures to allay concerns that NHS reforms were too focused on decisions being made by GPs at the expense of other health professionals. The bodies are expected to play a key role in local commissioning decisions.
This is the other place to make sure [nurses] are. They will have a big influence
They were announced by the government last week along with plans to give nurses a mandatory seat on GP consortia boards - renamed clinical commissioning groups - and to extend clinical networks for cancer and other diseases.
In a document outlining proposed amendments, the government said the senates would have a major say in the formation of commissioning groups and in advising them on their plans for local services.
The 14 or 15 senates will also feed back to the NHS Commissioning Board, the national body being set up to oversee how services are planned and bought, on whether the groups’ plans and strategies are sound.
The document states: “We will enable doctors, nurses and other professionals to come together in ‘clinical senates’ to give expert advice, which we expect clinical commissioning groups to follow, on how to make patient care fit together seamlessly in each area of the country.
“Clinical senates will have a formal role in the authorisation of clinical commissioning groups. In addition, they will have a key role in advising the NHS Commissioning Board on whether commissioning plans are clinically robust and on major service changes.”
Additionally, the revised reform plans said clinical networks, such as those that exist for cancer, would be expanded to cover a greater range of specialised areas and given a “stronger role in commissioning” decisions.
The NHS Alliance’s Nurses in Commissioning Network lead Ursula Gallagher told Nursing Times it was important nurses were involved in senates as well as being represented on commissioning group boards.
She said: “That’s the other place to make sure we are. They will have a big influence.”
Health secretary Andrew Lansley signalled the important role that senates would have in commissioning at a GP conference in London last week.
He told delegates he thought clinical networks and senates would be where clinical involvement in commissioning would “fundamentally” happen - rather than on commissioning group boards.
Former nurse Baroness Emerton said: “Clinical senates are going to bring in secondary care, as well as primary care, so that long-term conditions including multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and diabetes are considered.”