Editorial

Freed up to be truly effective ward leaders

Often the most interesting discussions at RCN congress take place away from the main hall, in fringe meetings attended by a few dozen of the keenest activists in nearby hotels or small rooms in the conference centre.

Often the most interesting discussions at RCN congress take place away from the main hall, in fringe meetings attended by a few dozen of the keenest activists in nearby hotels or small rooms in the conference centre.

Among those to take place this year was a gathering hosted by the RCN Research Institute, at which it published fascinating findings from a study on the role of ‘ward sister’, shorthand for those who are charge nurses or ward managers.

Supernumerary sisters were better managers and clinical role models

Not just any ward sisters, but a group who have been given the opportunity to be supernumerary. This means they have been freed from the responsibility of their own caseload and so are able to oversee the whole ward, and provide management and leadership to the nursing team. The study involved the ward sisters themselves, as well as assistant directors of nursing and human resources managers.

The findings make a compelling case for giving all ward sisters similar status. Supernumerary sisters spent more time with patients, communication improved and care standards went up. These sisters were demonstrably better managers, stronger clinical role models and more efficient leaders. Other members of the team appreciated them more, and offered them extra support.

RCN research and innovation manager for quality Linda Watterson put it like this: ‘Ward sisters became much more visible to staff and the people around them. They became able to think more strategically and therefore more able to balance the different elements of their role. Because of that, they felt more in control. They felt they were more aware of what was going on and about what they could do, and therefore felt they had more authority.’

Calls for ward sisters and the like to be supernumerary are not new, of course. Nursing Standard ran the Power to Care campaign on the issue, and Robert Francis said ward managers should operate in a supervisory capacity. In the ongoing debate on safe staffing, the importance of strong clinical leaders at ward level should never be forgotten.

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