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We need nurses to rule the roost

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VOL: 98, ISSUE: 13, PAGE NO: 33

Tracy Mcfall, BSc, RGN, OHN

Is nursing leadership alive and vibrant in the UK? This question has generated a lot of debate in the nursing world recently, but what do we mean by a nurse leader?

Is nursing leadership alive and vibrant in the UK? This question has generated a lot of debate in the nursing world recently, but what do we mean by a nurse leader?

Is it someone who generates innovative nursing research that has positive health outcomes for patients or is it someone, like RCN general secretary Beverly Malone or Unison head of nursing Karen Jennings, who challenges politicians and steps out of the risk-averse behaviour so often exhibited by nurses?

It is probably a variety of roles, from a senior nurse working in a primary care trust to a hospital sister introducing evidence-based practice on a ward. One thing is certain, we need leadership at every tier and in every field of practice. Strong leadership is based on the abilities of nurse leaders. If we proclaim their virtues then we must be ready to meet the challenge.

The good news on this issue is that there is some movement in the government in England and Malcolm Chisholm, the Scottish minister for health and community care, recently announced that the unified boards would have nurse directors.

The Welsh health minister, Jane Hutt, needed little persuasion and has guaranteed a seat for a nurse on the executive board. Disappointingly, it appears that the Department of Health is still struggling to decide the role and remit of senior nurses on the new English strategic health authorities.

Although there are differences in the countries of the UK, one of the great assets of political devolution is that diverging policy allows all nurses to name and shame their health ministers if they are slow to recognise the nursing contribution.

Health secretary Alan Milburn often 'talks the talk' about nursing leadership and its contribution to patient care, but he fails to 'walk the walk'. It is easy to say you value nurses and want them around the table, but it is difficult for them to believe you if you forget to give them a place to sit.

Even if we secure nurse leaders, we need them, as one nurse remarked, 'to be alive, awake and active'. As a profession we do not invest enough in providing leadership opportunities.

A colleague described how she became a senior nurse; one day she was managing a ward, and the next she was in a boardroom staking her claim on behalf of her trust. It was a role she felt ill-prepared to perform and she wished she had been shown the ropes a little earlier.

In celebrating these new roles for nurses in Scotland and Wales, and hopefully soon for England, I believe we need to develop nurse leadership in a way we have only begun to imagine. If we fail to make this investment in our future now, we will build our own glass ceiling and will be left asking the same question: 'Is nursing leadership alive and vibrant in the UK?'

- This is the last in the current Arena series. Next week we bring you a new clinical section.

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