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Amid the often-confusing stream of messages on how it intended to tackle the alarming rise in cases of coronavirus, the government made one announcement on health and social care last month that could be expected to receive a near-unanimous positive response.
It revealed that a new chief nurse for adult social care role was being created in England to help steer the workforce through the challenges of the upcoming winter and beyond.
Recruitment for the position was due to begin this month, with the successful candidate set to offer clinical and professional leadership to staff working in social care. And the care sector was happy about the news.
“The advertisement suggested that, come the spring, the new social care chief nurse would be returning to their old role somewhere else”
The advertisement for the job duly appeared last week but, to the surprise of many, it was for an interim “secondment role” that would be “for a duration of six months”.
The care sector was suddenly distinctly less happy. The advertisement suggested that, come the spring, the new social care chief nurse would be returning to their old role somewhere else – game over.
Dissatisfaction was undoubtedly exacerbated the failure to mention the key fact that the role was a secondment when it was originally announced by the Department of Health and Social Care in its adult social care winter plan.
As a result, there was a feeling among the social care workforce that they were being hoodwinked.
The original announcement had hinted that the role would be a potential game-changer, providing “clinical and professional leadership, while upholding and raising standards among the care workforce; the subsequent advert suggested it would be far less.
Admittedly, the government often uses interim status to test out new senior roles, as noted by Queen’s Nursing Institute chief executive Crystal Oldman.
She told Nursing Times that such posts were often advertised as a short appointment to start with while a business case for a permanent position was built for the following financial year.
Likewise, care minister Helen Whately has strongly hinted at a more secure situation for the role in future in an opinion piece for Nursing Times.
Ms Whately said: “There’s no time to waste, which is why we are looking to appoint a chief nurse on an interim basis at first to get someone in place as quickly as possible.”
I rarely choose to give the government this form of platform but felt it appropriate on this occasion, given the need to glean as much reassurance and information as possible about this important role.
So, as is often the case, the role is a step in the right direction but it needs to be firmly cemented if it is to deliver what was promised.
The social care chief nurse role cannot be viewed as something needed for this winter only, the result of the potential combination of influenza and Covid-19.
Nursing staff in the sector – and the people they care for – would hugely benefit from a permanent national leader with genuine influence.
Ministers must make the social care chief nurse role permanent as soon as possible, to both attract the right candidate and give the sector what it needs. The business case is surely already made.
Likewise, whoever takes on the job must be supported and enabled to flourish. They must not be left isolated and the role allowed to wither, so it can easily and quietly be done away with when ministers see fit.