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Senior nurses condemn the closure of the DH nursing unit

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Senior nurses fear there will be no nursing voice Senior nurses fear the nursing voice will be lost if the DH moves forward

Nurses risk losing their voice in health policy if the Department of Health scraps its nursing, midwifery and AHP policy unit, leading nurses have said.

Heather Henry, New NHS Alliance co-chair, condemned the closure of the nursing, midwifery and allied health professionals policy unit.

‘Since the Francis Inquiry report was published, we have experienced concerning issues around workforce planning, integration, and new models of care. The need for senior nursing, midwifery, and allied health professionals leadership has never been more acute.’

The DH is set to scrap its nursing, midwifery and AHP unit as part of the ‘DH 2020’ plan to cut costs in the department. A DH spokesperson said that they are absolutely committed to ensuring the voice of nursing is heard ‘loud and clear in all policy making’.

‘Ministers meet the chief nursing officer and other nursing experts on a regular basis. All of the changes we are making through our DH 2020 programme are being done transparently and following extensive engagement with our staff.’

Ms Henry mentioned that the GP Forward View and the new nursing strategy, Leading Change, Adding Value will need policy advice at the highest level to ensure that both are a success. ‘Modernisation of care outside hospitals requires courageous and imaginative thinking at all levels. We urge people to write to their MPs to ask that this decision be reversed,’ she said.

Janet Davies, the chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, agreed with Ms Henry. She said nurse leadership, at the highest levels, is the key to driving the development of best practice and the best possible health policy. ‘Government must not be exempt from that,’ she said.

‘Unless nursing advice and leadership is put back at the heart of government and given the prominence and respect that it deserves, then the profession will be in the permanent position of trying to shape and alter policy from the outside which is not only bad for nursing, but also for patients.’

Gail Adams, Unison’s head of nursing, tweeted that this decision showed that the DH neither ‘value the opinion or voice of nursing’ and Dame Jessica Corner, chair of the Council of Deans for Health, said that it was ‘terrible’ and that ‘we are losing our best and most experienced advisors’.

It is thought that up to seven posts in the unit are at risk in the DH. The department will lose around 700 posts in the next five years in attempts to cut costs by 30%.

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The present pressures on health and social care have never been greater. Only last week Nigel Edwards of the respected Nuffield Trust cautioned that morale within the NHS was at an absolute all time low and liable to represent a threat to the service at least as great as the financial constraints. It would appear that the Department of Health is now failing to acknowledge the contribution of senior nurses at the highest level in managing the NHS. Without senior nurses advising ministers and other civil servants the DH is in real danger of becoming organisationally blindfolded at a time when health services in the United Kingdom are perilously close to a precipice.

Mike Paynter
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