Chief Nursing Officer goes toe-to-toe with health commentator

NHS England’s Chief Nursing Officer, Jane Cummings, has talked frankly about staffing levels, Parity of Esteem and how she cared for her husband as he died of leukaemia.

She also outlined the importance of the 6Cs, how she manages her own Type One diabetes and how she first got into nursing during a candid interview with healthcare commentator Roy Lilley at the King’s Fund.

Asked if she had wanted to be a nurse from an early age, she explained to the HealthChat audience: “Yes, as a little girl I wanted to be a nurse and I used to practise by bandaging up my Teddy bear and my little brother. I don’t know whether my brother has ever got over it.

“By the time I was a teenager I was really passionate about nursing. There was something very powerful about being able to make a difference. I was hungry for knowledge and skill.

“There was no medical or nursing background in my family except for a Great Aunt who was a nurse in the war. She used to talk movingly about her experiences and this inspired me.”

The CNO also talked about her own experience of visiting a war zone, when she visited Army clinical staff at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan last year.

“The military nurses clearly displayed their values and the 6Cs in difficult circumstances and the umber of people they got out of Camp Bastion alive was remarkable.

“The good thing is that the knowledge about improved trauma care from the military has come back into care in Britain.”

She then spoke movingly about how she nursed her fire-fighter husband of over 20 years, Chris, through his last few weeks at home before he died from acute leukaemia.

She paid tribute to all the staff that had cared for him in hospital, especially the specialist nurse who had given her help, advice and guidance about what to expect and provided tremendous support.

She said the community nursing team were also amazing and supported Chris when he refused to have any more treatment.

“His refusal of any further transfusions was about getting some control back. The sad thing was I knew I couldn’t do anything to stop him dying.”

She explained how she spends a lot of time with frontline nurses talking to them and picks up a lot of feedback “through social media.”

Asked about nurse staffing levels she explained: “I think a lot of people planned for a reduction of wards and beds rather than for an increase in elderly patients. They also didn’t predict the increase in dementia patients.

“I would not dare to say everything is rosy in the garden but we have done lots in the past year to improve staffing levels. There is no shortage in the number of people wanting to be nurses.

“There are no simple answers but in the last couple of years we have put in a lot of effort to do the right thing.

“We are now putting the data out there and asking people to tell us how they have reached those staffing levels.

“Until we started publishing staffing level data and started to explain, it wasn’t talked about and it wasn’t transparent,” she added, saying more still needed to be done for Community nursing, Parity of Esteem, mental health nursing and learning disability care.

On the launch of the 6Cs which have been taken up by nurses, Midwives and other staff throughout the country, Jane said: “We raised the flag and said we have a critical role to play in the compassionate and safe care for patients.

“Nurses wanted something to describe their role that was simple and meaningful. The 6Cs have been adopted as a social movement.”

  • Follow Jane Cummings on Twitter at: @JaneMCummings
  • Roy Lilley will do a HealthChat interview with Tim Kelsey, NHS England’s National Director for Patients and Information, at the King’s Fund on December 15, 2014