Career advice

COVID-19: the online programme for nurses facing new leadership challenges

Florence Nightingale Foundation’s free leadership course gives nurses a chance to discuss difficult situations with peers

The course will be conducted with small groups via video conferencing  Picture: iStock

Nurses are being offered places on a free leadership programme intended to support them through the COVID-19 crisis.

The Nightingale Frontline NHS leadership support service has been launched in response to ‘the additional and extraordinary leadership responsibilities’ of nurses and midwives at all levels of organisations during and after the pandemic. 

Programme has been funded by the COVID-19 Urgent Appeal

The online programme, run by the Florence Nightingale Foundation (FNF), aims to reach more than 90,000 nurses and midwives during its first six months.

Experienced associate facilitators and senior nurse and midwife volunteers from the foundation will support groups of six through the leadership development sessions using video conferencing.

The programme is funded by the NHS Charities Together COVID-19 Urgent Appeal, which has raised millions of pounds to support NHS staff and volunteers caring for COVID-19 patients.

‘Many staff are making big decisions that they probably would not have been asked to make before, and being put into leadership positions that they would not usually be put in’

Gemma Stacey, Florence Nightingale Foundation academy director

‘Nursing and midwifery professionals are at the heart of the response to COVID-19,’ says FNF chief executive officer Greta Westwood. ‘This is undoubtedly the most challenging, difficult and pressurised time in generations for teams working in health and social care settings across the UK.

‘Nightingale Frontline will support nurses and midwives to continue to lead and support the NHS now and be inspired to lead beyond this crisis.’

Nurses may face new leadership challenges or roles during COVID-19 crisis

The programme will be led by FNF academy director Gemma Stacey. In practice a mental health nurse, she is currently working in well-being areas at her hospital offering a breathing space for healthcare staff.

She says the online programme will offer nurses and midwives ‘a psychologically safe space to explore leadership challenges and concerns’.

‘Our leadership programmes and the way we deliver them are internationally renowned. We can offer expertise to nurses and midwives who are dealing with this crisis at all levels. Many are making big decisions that they probably would not have been asked to make before, and being put into leadership positions that they would not usually be put in. 

‘In these extraordinary times, this is true at every level of organisations, which is why we will have sessions tailored to different levels. Needs may be very different and the problems and issues might be different, but they are all facing leadership challenges.’

View our COVID-19 resources centre

Programme participants grouped with others in similar roles

Participants will be grouped with nurses and midwives from different organisations who work in similar areas and have similar levels of experience. This will make sure the peer support is relevant and will help to ensure best practice is being shared. 

Scoping work by the foundation suggests the programme’s co-consulting model – which involves learning through peer coaching and support – will be particularly beneficial for nurse leaders who are ‘holding the emotional burden of their teams’ and nurses and midwives who lack the confidence to meet the clinical demands of the current situation.

‘One person shares a problem they are dealing with – it could be a death or staff morale – and the group reflects on it, sharing their own experiences and learning. It is very practical support’

Claire Henry, programme facilitator

‘During the programme, nurses can share experiences and challenges and solve problems with our expert facilitators,’ says Ms Stacey. ‘Leadership can often feel very lonely, especially for senior leaders and executive nurses. They have to present a calm and confident clinical persona so that teams can feel secure, but they also need to be able to talk to people about challenges.

‘The group sessions mean those acting in isolation can discuss issues with others in similar scenarios. If there are no obvious solutions it is reassuring to know you are not the only one struggling with a particular issue.’

New ways of working ‘can make you feel like a novice again’

Ms Stacey says that the experiences will be different in different areas of care. For example, for those working in the community there are specific challenges, she says.

‘Many usually manage the decision-making process alone in someone’s home and coming back to base gives them the opportunity to debrief by discussing scenarios informally with colleagues. They have built face-to-face relationships with people with long-term conditions, but now have to deliver care over the phone. Some might not feel secure doing this and for some, the face-to-face work is where they get their job satisfaction. 

‘And many nurses are being redeployed. When you move from an area you feel comfortable in, you can feel like a novice again.’

Palliative care expert Claire Henry, who has returned to practice working in a hospital palliative care team, is one of the programme facilitators. She has delivered a number of programmes using the co-consulting model.

‘One person shares a problem they are dealing with – it could be a death, supporting staff morale or managing their team’s anxiety – and the group reflects on it and looks at how it can be solved, sharing their own experiences and learning. It is very practical support,' she says.

‘Often the person sharing does not realise their strengths. The groups are supporting, learning and developing their leadership skills and they go back into their workplace with more confidence.’

Who are the Nightingale Frontline leadership sessions aimed at? 

  • Executive team members
  • Senior leaders
  • Ward/team leaders
  • Newly registered nurses/midwives
  • Nurses/midwives returning to practice from retirement or non-clinical roles
  • Nurses/midwives managing caseloads remotely


Find out more

Elaine Cole is RCNi special projects editor