England’s Chief Nurse sets out long term vision for NHS nursing

England’s top nurse today pledged to ensure the voices of nurses and midwives will be valued and heard across the NHS.

During her maiden speech at the chief nursing officer (CNO) Summit in Birmingham, Ruth May said that the profession, while often considered by the public to be the most trusted, is too often undervalued and pledged to fight for the voice of nurses to be influential across the NHS.

Setting out her vision for the role, the CNO said her three priorities to support delivery of the NHS Long Term Plan and give full recognition to the value of the nursing profession will be to address workforce shortfalls; enhance pride in the profession and strengthen perceptions of nursing and midwifery as high-value careers; and to help nurses and midwives to influence and lead change at every level across the NHS.

Alongside making NHS care fit for the future, the NHS Long Term Plan committed to recruiting and retaining staff, with the CNO today announcing a range of measures which will enhance the number, skill and influence of England’s nurses.

Ruth highlighted the success of a programme in Northampton, Pathway to Excellence, focused on involving front line staff in key decisions and enabling them to lead change, which has seen the nursing vacancy rate fall by half in the past three years; and the national Band five talent management programme, to identify exceptionally talented nurses below senior management posts and maximise their chances of career progression.

At her first CNO summit, Ruth May said: “It was an honour to be appointed chief nurse and it’s fantastic to have this opportunity to speak to what is undoubtedly the most dedicated, talented and vital profession anywhere in our country.

“The Long Term Plan sets out an ambitious programme for our patients, and it’s brought home to me not only how big a challenge lies in front of us but also how big an opportunity, and recognising and valuing the contribution and potential of nursing and midwifery in the future of our NHS is essential.

“The NHS Long Term Plan marks a milestone for our health service and, just as they have been for 70-plus years, England’s nurses and midwives are essential to the future of patient care, which is why I’m determined we recruit the best and brightest, reward our colleagues’ commitment and respond strongly where nurses or any colleagues face unfairness as they go about their work.”

The chief nurse went on to warn that to ensure the strongest nursing and midwifery workforce, more needed to be done to value the contribution of colleagues from all backgrounds, in particular to address inequalities facing nurses and midwives from black and minority ethnic backgrounds.

Addressing head-on concerns raised by a new report from the Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES) programme looking at the experiences of nurses from black and minority ethnic communities, Ruth said unequal access to opportunities or fair treatment within the nursing profession was “unacceptable for us as an employer; but as importantly, it’s not good for our patients”.

Yvonne Coghill director of the WRES at NHS England and deputy president of the Royal College of Nursing said: “Without question, nurses, midwives and health visitors are the backbone of the NHS, but there is a lot to do to make sure the contribution of colleagues from all backgrounds is fully recognised and valued, starting with ensuring equal and fair treatment for staff regardless of their background.

“The WRES team is fully committed to working across the NHS to deliver the NHS Long Term Plan, and to ensure that the leadership of our organisations fully reflects the wonderful diversity of their workforce, which ultimately will mean better care for our patients.”

To address shortfalls in staffing, the NHS is currently delivering the biggest ever recruitment campaign drive, launched during the health service’s 70th birthday in July 2018.

In the first two months of the “We are the NHS” campaign, 203,069 people sought out more information on a future career as a nurse.

The number of nurses and midwives registered to work in the UK increased by nearly 4,000, to 693,618, in the 12 months to end of September 2018, according to figures released by the Nursing and Midwifery Council.

In her keynote speech today, the new CNO focused on the importance of public perceptions of nursing and midwifery so that the next generation is inspired to pursue them as careers of choice.

Launching a gender neutral ‘mini uniform’, she pledged this year to create a 5,000-strong team of Nursing and Midwifery Ambassadors to go into schools to tackle outdated stereotypes and ensure young people across the country learn how rewarding and varied careers in the professions can be.