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It is timely, exciting and welcome news that as part of the winter plan, the Department of Health and Social Care in England has announced the new chief nursing officer (CNO) for social care.
Reporting into the director general for adult social care and being a member of the newly formed adult social care group will ensure this new role directly influences social care nursing policy at the most strategic level possible.
Whoever is appointed will need to hit the ground running. This post is initially for six months, although it is highly possible that this role will become established. We need to ensure it does.
So, what are we spending our time talking about and calling for?
“Social care nurses have played a critical safety role in the wider health and economic wellbeing of our communities”
First, the most vital policy imperative should be long-term nursing and care workforce investment across the care sector. We have 42,000 registered nurses working in social care across England. Our colleagues are England’s best kept secret, and the jewels in the crown of social care reform.
Locally and regionally, nurses are leading the way in social care, domiciliary care, commissioning, care transition, education, systems leadership and a whole variety of other amazing roles across the life course.
We must not forget that all four branches of nursing are involved here: community learning disability nurses, community mental health nurses, children’s community nurses, nursing associates and the list goes on.
Social care nurses have played a critical safety role in the wider health and economic wellbeing of our communities and this continues to come into sharp focus during the coronavirus pandemic.
Often regarded as one of the least travelled career paths in the profession, the clinical, social and educational needs of this group can be misunderstood. From community psychiatric nursing roles to learning disabilities, young adults and older people in supported living, to providing complex care at the end of life within care homes, professional education and career development for registered nurses has not kept pace with the challenges we face within social care reform.
Second, critical action is needed to address a strong professional social care nursing identify. Alongside fellow deputy CNOs in England’s chief nurse’s team, chief nurse for Health Education England and chief nurse for Public Health England, the new CNO for social care will raise the profile of this disparate and isolated professional group. Health Education England’s recently published video says it all. It brought tears to our eyes when we watched it. Watch it here.
Third, the new CNO for social care will be responsible for providing clinical and professional leadership, which is a vital development for registered nurses, nursing associates and care staff who have struggled to gain parity with access to professional development opportunities and career pathways, earning approximately 7% less than their NHS counterparts.
Systems leadership is key to any future role as we integrate health and care across the country. Organisational boundaries have been broken down and we have learnt through our response to the pandemic that any meaningful and long-term relationship needs nurturing. This is at an individual, organisational and structural level.
Our clarion call to our new CNO for social care is to establish a strong network of critical friends, prioritise the sustainability and growth of this highly skilled and multi-faceted workforce, now and for the future, supporting structural multidisciplinary collaboration that will recognise the complexity of social care nursing, improve the gap between research, policy education and practice, and demonstrate impact at individual, family, community and population level.
We will be delighted to support you.
Joanne Bosanquet is chief executive at The Foundation of Nursing Studies, visiting professor at the University of Surrey and former deputy chief nurse at Public Health England; Louise Brady is registered nurse, clinical practice and development manager (care services) at the Royal British Legion