Empowering nurses to lead innovation

The Patients First Programme, which develops leadership skills and confidence, is currently recruiting.

The Patients First Programme, which develops leadership skills and confidence, is inviting applications, with projects starting in November. 

'Locally focused, nurse-led projects can make a big difference,’ says Dr Theresa Shaw, chief executive of the Foundation of Nursing Studies, which manages the programme. 

‘We’re seeing what nursing teams can do at the front line of care, often with very little money.’ 

Clinically based nurses and nurse-led teams in health and social care settings across the UK can apply. The closing date is September 7.

Since 2009, 80 nurse-led teams have taken part in the programme, which is backed with funding from the Burdett Trust for Nursing and aims to help clinically based nurses, midwives and health visitors lead local innovations that will develop nurses, nursing and healthcare practice. 


Focus on patient experience

Current projects include looking at nutrition and diet in palliative care, health and well-being for those with heart failure, and improving sleep for children and young people with learning disabilities. 

Having a focus on patients’ experience is crucial, says Dr Shaw. ‘It’s about what service users would like to see, based on their experiences, rather taking a piece of research or evidence and then acting on it.

‘Ideally we want to encourage partnership working, although we recognise that’s very hard to achieve.’ 

For individual nurses, the benefits include enhancing their transferable leadership skills. ‘A lot of participants seem to go on to bigger and better things, developing further and being promoted,’ says Dr Shaw. 

Boosted confidence is among the reasons. ‘Sometimes nurses undersell themselves and don’t think what they’re doing is valuable, but that changes through the programme. Others then begin to see a significant difference in them.’ 



For organisations, improvements are likely to be long-lasting. An evaluation carried out by researchers at the University of Worcester, published in November 2013, showed around three-quarters of projects resulted in changes in care that had either continued or become mainstream. 

The 18-month programme a dedicated mentor offering direct support in the workplace and by phone and email. It includes six learning and development workshops and a bursary of up to £5,000. 

While the process is competitive, with ten projects selected from across the UK, applicants are supported from the very beginning, says Dr Shaw. ‘Anyone who is interested in applying can pick up the phone and call us for advice.’ 

Alongside a clear patient focus, the foundation looks for solid leadership and a culture that is open to change. 

‘It’s a willingness to do things differently,’ says Dr Shaw. ‘Given the chance, everyone can make a difference and be better. Don’t think your project isn’t worthy – take the opportunity.’ 

More information and application forms are available at  


Author notes

Lynne Pearce is a freelance health writer


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