More than a year has passed since a job advertisement for a new chief public health nurse in England was posted – sparking fresh calls for the role to be filled as a matter of urgency.
Nursing leaders have told Nursing in Practice of their ongoing concerns around the vacant role and have warned the situation was leaving the profession feeling ‘insecure’.
Former post holder Professor Viv Bennet had retired from the role at the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID) – the government body which replaced Public Health England – last August.
An advert for the position was posted on 22 July 2022 via the NHS Jobs website at a salary of £110,000 a year. It currently states that ‘this job is now closed’.
And it is understood that individuals had been interviewed for the role, but the post remains vacant.
This week the Department of Health and Social Care said ministers are considering the recruitment of a chief public health nurse and that any appointment would be announced in its usual way. However, this was the same response given to Nursing in Practice when asked more than two months ago in May.
Dr Crystal Oldman, chief executive of the Queen’s Nursing Institute, warned the ongoing vacancy ‘poses questions’ around communication and risk management within public health.
‘The chief public health nurse role is of critical importance, both in terms of the overall national public health strategy, and in ensuring that the nursing perspective and experience is represented at the highest level in policy making,’ she told Nursing in Practice.
‘As nurses in the community and primary care represent a huge part of the public health workforce, it is essential that there is strong communication between front line practitioners and the national level.’
Dr Oldman added: ‘If the chief nurse role remains vacant, this poses questions about communication, professional responsibilities, and risk management in public health in England.’
Meanwhile, chief executive of the School and Public Health Nurses Association Sharon White stressed it was ‘imperative that this position is urgently recruited to’.
‘At a time when school and public health nursing is facing huge workforce challenges, when health inequalities in our children, young people and families continue to worsen and the cost-of-living crisis places unsurmountable pressures on professionals and the public, it is very worrying that this post remains vacant,’ she told Nursing in Practice.
She noted how Professor Bennett, who also held the position at the now disbanded Public Health England, had been ‘a brilliant leader who, alongside her team, ensured that the key functions of her role were fulfilled to a very exacting standard’.
But she warned: ‘Without this leadership and, critically, our voice amplified to our decision-makers, the profession feel insecure, adding to an already concerned and battle-weary workforce.
‘Public health, it seems, does not always feature as significantly as it should in our government policy and funding decisions, therefore, it is imperative that this position is urgently recruited to.’
During the annual Royal College of Nursing Congress (RCN) held in May, former deputy chief nurse at Public Health England Joanne Bosanquet also sounded the alarm over the vacancy and called on the RCN’s governing council to raise this matter with the government urgently.