Opinion

Rapid turnover of nurse directors is undermining drive to improve safety

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More than one quarter of nursing directors (29 per cent) across nearly 200 NHS trusts in England have been in post a year or less, a Nursing Standard investigation has revealed.

In the 199 trusts surveyed, more than 55 per cent of nursing directors were recruited in the past three years, and 18 per cent were in post two years or less.

The research has raised concern among nurse leaders that there is instability on trust boards and that the rapid turnover was undermining the drive to improve patient safety.

They attribute the high turnover to the pressure and lack of support that comes with the nursing director job, while warning that stability in the NHS is more important now than at any other time in its history.

Nursing Standard editor Graham Scott says: ‘Read any report into a care scandal and you will always find that a lack of leadership contributed to the problems.

‘Yet the nurses who are expected to provide such leadership in the health service are chopping and changing at such an alarming rate that it is no surprise that issues with the quality of patient care continue to rise.'

Susan Osborne, chair of the Safe Staffing Alliance, a group of leading nurses brought together by Nursing Standard, says there is a dire shortage of experienced nurses going for senior posts because of a long history of underinvestment.

‘There has been a gradual dilution of senior nurses in the past 20 years. Because of that insidious cost-cutting we now have the conundrum where quite a number of hospitals have unsafe staffing levels but they are peppered with junior nurses.

‘Chief nurses are struggling because they have not got deputies to help them. We now have a very fragmented NHS and the nursing voice has become very diluted not just locally, but nationally. We are now hitting tipping point and it is becoming very serious.’

About the author

Elaine Cole is deputy editor of Nursing Standard, published by RCNi