Digital nurses needed in all care settings, says England’s CNIO

Digital nurse leaders must exist “in all places of care”, including outside of hospital, the interim chief nursing officer for NHS England has said.

Helen Balsdon highlighted the need for consistency around what the role of a digital nurse is, and for there to be greater variation in the settings in which they work.

“There’s still a long journey to go and we need those digital nurse leaders in that space driving change at all sectors”

Helen Balsdon

Her comments came during the nursing and midwifery summit at the Digital Health Rewired 2024 conference, held this week in Birmingham.

In her keynote address, Ms Balsdon argued that nurses and midwives were getting “a louder voice” in the digital space, meaning they were able to “really make a difference”.

However, she noted that more needed to be done to ensure that all healthcare systems had opportunities for digital nurses.

Ms Balsdon said: “It’s essential [that] we continue to develop our leaders in every place of care and continue to grow the vibrant communities that we’ve built over the last few years.”

One of the key things that organisations need to do is to “develop careers in digital for nurses and midwives”, argued Ms Balsdon.

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She said: “Our work has shown that, currently, many of you [are] working from a range of anywhere between band 7 and band 9 as chief nursing information officers.

“Clearly that’s not great because it means nobody’s really clear about what a digital nurse or midwife leader is in the space, and how to harness that, to drive that forward.”

Ms Balsdon said NHS England was beginning to look at building a “career pathway” for digital nursing and midwifery, which will outline how nurses can enter and progress in the specialty.

Helen Balsdon stood at lectern delivering keynote speech.

Helen Balsdon giving her keynote at the conference

Meanwhile, she also argued that digital nurses needed to have a voice “in all places of care”.

“We know when we look at our data that we’ve got some great nurses, and I’m delighted to see so many familiar faces, but we need fresh faces in this space,” she explained.

“But most of our CNIOs are in hospitals.”

Ms Balsdon highlighted that there were just six CNIOs working in mental health settings and that there was “the same issue emerging in community”.

“There’s not many digital leaders there and yet there’s so much to do and so much to harness,” she added.

Ms Balsdon urged nurses and midwives to “come together across a multidisciplinary team to drive digital transformation forward”.

She added: “We know we’ve still got huge variation across health and care.

“So there’s still a long journey to go and we need those digital nurse leaders in that space driving change at all sectors.”

Separately, Ms Balsdon made mention of the much-anticipated Phillips Ives Review, which has assessed the digital readiness of the nursing and midwifery workforce.

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The review was set to be published in 2023 but its publication has been delayed.

Ms Balsdon said she hoped the review, named after authors former England CNIO Natasha Phillips and American nursing academic Dr Jeanette Ives Erickson, would be published “very, very soon”.

In May last year, Nursing Times revealed early findings from the Phillips Ives Review, including that there was unwarranted variation in how nurses are prepared for working with digital technologies, and that specialist digital nurse roles were lacking within some NHS trusts.

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