Nursing research and evidence underpinning practice, policy and system transformation

Research led by nurses and the contributions they make as members of multidisciplinary research teams can drive change. Evidence from research influences and shapes the nursing profession, and informs and underpins policy, professional decision-making and nursing actions. It is the cornerstone of high-quality, evidence-based nursing.

Making research matter – The Chief Nursing Officer (CNO) for England’s strategic plan for research is for all nurses working in health and social care, whether they are already or thinking about getting involved in research), colleagues in academia and the third sector and all those who support research.

The CNO for England’s strategic plan for research sets out the ambition to “create a people-centred research environment that empowers nurses to lead, participate in and deliver research, where research is fully embedded in practice and professional decision-making, for public benefit”. Fulfilling this ambition will strengthen and expand nurses’ contribution to health and care outcomes through research of global significance. This provides the scientific basis for: the care of people across the lifespan; during illness, through to recovery and at the end of life, preventing illness, protecting health and promoting wellbeing.

Five themes underpin this ambition:

  1. Aligning nurse-led research with public needresearch demand signalling to identify, prioritise and articulate research questions most pertinent to nursing practice. We are first doing this for mental health building on the research demand signalling of national mental health programme, working with the deputy director of mental health nursing and the Innovation, Research and Life Sciences Group (IRLS). In May 2024, NHS England published the Research demand signalling: mental health nursing report identifying the high-level priority areas for research in the field of mental health nursing.
  2. Releasing nurses’ research potential – to create a climate in which nurses are empowered to lead, use, deliver and participate in research as part of their job, and the voice of the profession is valued.
  3. Building the best research system – so that England is the best place for nurses to lead, deliver and get involved in cutting-edge research.
  4. Developing future nurse leaders of research – to offer rewarding opportunities and sustainable careers that support growth in the number and diversity of nurse leaders of research.
  5. Digitally-enabled nurse-led research – to create a digitally-enabled practice environment for nursing that supports research and delivers better outcomes for the public.

The plan builds on existing commitments and priorities set out in the NHS Long Term Plan and closely aligns with the UK Clinical Research Recovery, Resilience and Growth (RRG) Programme, which brings together partners from across the NHS, academia, government, universities, regulators, charities, patients and the public. This alignment means the nursing profession will be able go further in tackling challenges and embedding sustainable, effective and innovative practices that reflect system-wide priorities.

Publication links

Implementation plan

We are delivering the strategic plan through close collaboration with colleagues across NHS England and Health Education England (HEE), the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), National Institute of Health and Care Research (NIHR), Council of Deans of Health (CoDH) and Royal College of Nursing (RCN).

Below is a summary of the activities underway in 2022 or planned for 2023 that start turning the plan into reality, organised by the five themes listed above.

Strategic focus 1: Aligning nurse-led research with public need

Impact: A clear understanding of the research questions in mental health that the nursing profession is best placed to address. This process will also inform how we adopt it for other areas of nursing.

Impact: By developing research questions for the top 3 community nursing priorities, funders will know what research is most needed to underpin this field of practice and improve population health and patient care.

  • Working with the IRLS and stakeholders, develop an action plan in response to the commissioned report ‘Implementation Strategies in Respect of Addressing Inequalities in Race and Health in the CNO for England’s Strategic Plan for Research’.

Impact: Co-production of this action plan will support development of an inclusive health and care research system for people, communities and the profession.

Strategic focus 2: Releasing nurses’ research potential

  • With NIHR help establish a research interest group and develop a research toolkit for clinical matrons, to support their role in enabling research and innovation across nursing teams.

Impact: Giving this group of nursing leaders a suite of resources and network of support will help research become business as usual, increasing nurse engagement in supporting, leading and delivering research.

  • Scope what trust and integrated care board (ICB) executive nurse leaders require to make research matter in every nurse’s practice and design a programme of learning and development in response to this.

Impact: By promoting understanding of the benefits of involving nurses in the leadership, delivery and support of research among senior nursing leaders, the voice of the profession will be heard when and where decisions are made about prioritisation, commissioning, management and translation of research.

  • Scope systems, processes and approaches that facilitate use of research evidence – the first step of an initiative to encourage transfer and implementation of evidence into nursing practice.

Impact: Strategies to strengthen the transfer and implementation of research evidence by the nursing profession will improve population health and the provision of safe and effective nursing care.

  • With the Chief Midwifery Officer (CMidO) research teams, support NIHR to identify features of successful research-related roles for nurses and midwives in community, public health, and social care.

Impact: By identifying what makes these roles succeed in settings outside acute hospitals, interventions can be designed to increase capacity and capability in these settings, diversifying opportunities for participation and engagement in research.

Strategic focus 3: Building the best research system

  • Work with the CMidO research teams and IRLS, NIHR Director of Nursing and Midwifery, HEE Chief Nurse, DHSC and RCN to ensure strategic alignment of respective work programmes.

Impact: By co-ordinating activity across England, stay on track to deliver the ambition and communicate a clear and consistent message.

  • Clarify roles and responsibilities of regional, integrated care board and trust executive nurse leaders in building nurse-related research capacity and capability, as well as the actions they might take to support implementation of the plan.

Impact: Clarity about duties and responsibilities, supporting sustainable change through system-wide leadership.

  • Support delivery of the NIHR Senior Research Leader: Nursing and Midwifery programme by offering regional and national internship opportunities.

Impact: Programme participants will be pivotal in implementing the CNO strategic plan for research, as well as the Future of Clinical Research Delivery 2022-2025 Implementation Plan and Best Research for Best Health: Next Chapter, propagating effective system leadership.

  • Support delivery of the NIHR Senior Research Leader: Nursing and Midwifery programme by offering regional and national internship opportunities.

Impact: Programme participants will be pivotal in implementing the CNO strategic plan for research, as well as the Future of Clinical Research Delivery 2022-2025 Implementation Plan and Best Research for Best Health: Next Chapter, propagating effective system leadership.

  • Ensure strategic co-ordination and harmonisation of work with relevant NHS England deputy directors/heads of nursing (for example but not limited to, community nursing, mental health, children and learning disabilities) and the Chief Nurse for Adult Social Care and Chief Nurse at the Office of Health Improvement and Disparities (both at DHSC).

Impact: Cross-programme connections will ensure efficient and effective plan implementation, provide opportunities to address diverse population health needs and health inequalities, and maximise impact across the different fields of nursing and sectors.

  • Supporting delivery of commitments in the NHS Long Term plan and RRG work programme, IRLS are developing research metrics for provider and ICB assurance, aligned to this with CMidO research teams,, explore which metrics and reporting increase the visibility of nurse – led research across the NHS and strengthen incentives for trusts and boards to support nurses’ involvement in leadership and delivery of research.

Impact: A data-based approach will enable sustainable change across the NHS, and by giving leaders insight into performance against the ambitions of the strategic plan for research, is a means of demonstrating the impact of research on patient outcomes and improvements in patient care and population health.

  • Commission a tool for organisations to self-assess their readiness and progress towards achieving the ambitions of the strategic plan for research.

Impact: This tool will facilitate planning by establishing a baseline against which an organisation’s progress can be measured.

Strategic focus 4: Developing future nurse leaders of research

  • Agree work to overcome challenges limiting growth in number and diversity of nurses wishing to pursue a research-focused career in the NHS, social care and public health settings resulting from discussions at the NIHR/NHS England nursing summit in June 2022.

Impact: By building and securing a sustainable clinical academic and research delivery nursing workforce and making research-related roles more appealing, NHS and social care providers will be equipped to attract and retain the best talent and augment overall system capacity.

  • HEE Centre for Advancing Practice, with the CNO and CMidO research teams, will develop a research-related capability framework and career pathway(s) that align with enhanced, advanced and consultant levels of practice.

Impact: Clear career structures and associated roles that align with levels of practice will increase the value and attractiveness of research roles for the health and care professions; more nurses will get involved in research and for some become a major part of their career plans.

  • Led by the IRLS, working with CNO and CMidO research teams and lead officers for other registered health professions, explore use of workforce intelligence to inform workforce planning for those involved in research.

Impact: Workforce intelligence data will enable ICBs and trusts to develop workforce plans that reflect the ambition for the nursing workforce to lead, participate in and deliver research as part of providing high quality patient care and the business of every nurse and midwife.

  • In collaboration with NIHR, CoDH and other partners, promote growth of ethnic minority nurse research leaders.

Impact: Targeted activities will diversify the profile of research leaders and widen access for nurses aspiring to academic and clinical academic roles.

  • With the CMidO research team, collaborate with the NIHR supported Nursing and Midwifery Incubator on initiatives to identify and address barriers to increasing research capacity in nursing and midwifery.

Impact: Attracting, training and supporting future nurse and midwife research leaders of research will complement and maximise other investments to develop a skilled research workforce.

  • With the CMidO research team, support NIHR Nursing and Midwifery’s development of flexible career pathways for research nurses: a programme for nurse/midwife principal investigators and better integration of clinical and research roles.

Impact: Flexible career options encourage movement between supporting, delivering and leading research, promoting a culture in which research is the business of every nurse and midwife.

Strategic focus 5: Digitally enabled nurse-led research

  • Scoping and discovery work to understand the opportunities and challenges associated with establishing a minimum dataset for nursing (the standardised collection of essential nursing data).

Impact: This element of digital architecture – that is, a nursing minimum dataset – will be the foundation for the standardised collection of essential nursing data to enable analysis and comparison of data across populations, settings, geographical areas and time.

  • With the CMidO research team, contribute to the work of the UK Clinical Research RRG programme using data-driven methods and digital tools to transform the way people-centred clinical research studies are designed, managed and delivered.

Impact: Improved nurse-led research study planning, recruitment and follow-up, and access to data, ensuring research is enabled by data and digital tools.

  • Collaborate with HEE to deliver the actions the Phillips Ives Nursing & Midwifery Review recommends to ensure nurses and midwives can access the knowledge, skills and education they require for safe, effective digitally-enabled practice.

Impact: Empowers nurses and midwives to practise in and lead a digitally-enabled health and social care system, with practice fully supported by digital technology and data science.

  • Establish a digital nursing journal club to build a community of digitally enabled nurse-led practice.

Impact: This community of practice will connect nurse academics with provider chief nursing information officers, to build knowledge and expertise in this growing sphere of nursing.

We will keep you updated on progress and plans by making updates to this page and via the CNO’s Bulletin Nursing and Midwifery Matters.

If you would like to get involved in the CNO’s strategic plan for research, please contact