The position has a ‘crucial role in ensuring the delivery and maintenance of clinical standards’, according to a highly critical review into an outbreak of Clostridium difficile at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde’s Vale of Leven Hospital.
The review was authorised by Scottish health minister Nicola Sturgeon after C. difficile led to the deaths of 18 out of 55 patients who contracted the infection at the hospital between December 2007 and June this year.
The review highlighted ‘a lack of leadership and supervision, clarity of roles and responsibilities, and inconsistent infection control and isolation practices’, including poor handwashing and antibiotic monitoring.
While the commitment of charge nurses and sisters was recognised by the review, the report stated that there was a ‘need to further empower and strengthen this role and provide the necessary clinical support for further development and a strengthened professional leadership structure to board level’.
However, the review also noted that the hospital has been under threat of closure for more than 10 years and has suffered from a lack of investment as a result.
Ms Sturgeon described the situation at Vale of Leven as ‘appalling and unacceptable’ and promised to implement the review’s recommendations.
The Healthcare Associated Infection Task Force, set up in 2003 and led by Scotland’s chief nursing officer Paul Martin, has been asked by Ms Sturgeon to ensure that this takes place.
Theresa Fyffe, RCN Scotland director, said recommendations to further empower charge nurses must be implemented to ‘avoid another disaster’.
She also cited the positive impact of the new senior charge nurse/ward sister role that is being implemented in Scotland to boost clinical leadership, and which is due to be fully rolled out by 2010.