The nursing profession needs to “hold a mirror” up to itself if it is to address failings in care like those recently highlighted by the health service ombudsman, Dame Christine Beasley has warned.
In a wide-ranging speech to the Nursing Times Summit in Berkshire this week, Dame Christine said: “There is a whole range of things where we can say we have made a difference, and we have.
“However, I think we will fail ourselves if we don’t hold up the mirror and say we are not getting it right all the time. It isn’t just a few people [responsible for poor care].”
Talking about the “fiscal challenge” faced by the NHS, she told conference delegates the health service was starting from a much better position than in the previous recession of the late 80s and early 90s when she said staffing levels were “disastrous”.
She said: “I remember talking to staff nurses and consultants [in the 80s and 90s] who could not take it anymore because every day they knew that the care they were giving was substandard.”
Health secretary Andrew Lansley told Nursing Times last week that understaffing was “no excuse” for care failings categorised as “never events”.
Dame Christine talked about the importance of redesigning services to reduce posts, rather than just putting a “red line” through the most expensive members of staff, such as specialist nurses.
She predicted the new workforce would have to be made up of “different types of staff” and said it was essential to involve frontline staff in planning any changes, even it was time consuming.
Pointing to plans to recruit an extra 4,200 health visitors over the next four years as one area where the health workforce was expected to grow, Dame Christine warned it would be a “tragedy” if the service did not improve as a result.
Although she said she sympathised with the low morale of some health visitors, she told delegates it would be a “tragedy” if their negative attitude influenced new recruits.
In the same speech, Ms Beasley set out the future of the chief nursing officer role in England, confirming it will be split into two senior posts.
A chief nursing officer will sit on the NHS Commissioning Board – the national body which will oversee the NHS on behalf of the government – and there will be a director of nursing in the Department of Health with a greater public health focus.
Dame Christine added that she would be delaying her retirement – originally planned for this month – till October in order to oversee the changes. She will go part time from the end of March until October, doing two and a half days a week and working flexibly.
Referring to the need for nursing leadership throughout the healthcare system she told delegates that while the battle for nurse leadership had been won on the provider side, there was still “a way to go on the commissioning side”.