Ms Sally Bassett

Thesis title: How Chief Nurses and their colleagues perceive the success of the Chief Nurse leadership role

Start year: 2017


I completed my nurse training in Oxford and had worked in the university as a senior lecturer. I also live in Oxford, so it was a natural choice for me to study for my professional doctorate at Brookes. I have had a varied career in health and social care across the public, private and third sector in England and internationally. I have worked as a chief nurse, portfolio director, a non- executive director and as a lecturer in the faculty of health and life sciences. 


The Chief Nurse role

The Chief Nurse role in England is an executive position on the board of an NHS organisations. This role has been established as part of Government policy, meaning that job functions are broadly similar across organisations, though job tiles may vary. The leadership role of Chief Nurses is considered complex and varied; its primary purposes is to ensure that patient safety and quality remain central to the board agenda by setting a vision for nursing practice. The role function is equal to other board members in respect of corporate leadership for strategy, operations, risk oversight and developing organisational culture.

The duality of the role, complexity and cultural context means that how success is perceived varies. Care quality scandals are often attributed to board leadership pursuing financial goals at the expense of care quality. Nursing leadership and care are often criticised as a contributing factor, but the primary findings of investigations are that of a collective lack of effective and compassionate board leadership; creating a compassionate culture however falls disproportionality on the shoulders of Chief Nurses.

There is some evidence that chief nurse leadership may be under pressure to subordinate their nursing knowledge in favour of corporate responsibilities (Kelly, 2019) (Ingwell-Spolan, 2018). Whilst the chief nurse role is acknowledged as being pivotal to securing safe and compassionate care (NHS Improvement, 2019b) , the absence of board leadership for care quality is known to compromise the delivery of safe care (Francis, 2013). With the burgeoning pressures on all executive leaders(Anandaciva et al., 2018). The lack of contemporary exploration of the dual functions of these roles that operate in complex contexts is a significant gap in nursing and leadership literature. There are potential risks to patient care where the leadership may be less well executed.

Project aim

It is timely to learn more about the intersecting factors affecting the chief nurse within the socio-political context of English NHS boardrooms. The project aim is to contribute to understanding perceptions of successful leadership to inform the future role preparation to help improve the compassionate and safe care that patients receive in the NHS. The research question that this study will answer is therefore “How do chief nurses and their colleagues perceive the success of the chief nurse leadership role?”

Professional Doctorate

My practice experience led me to wanting to seek answers to things I had observed. A professional doctorate is designed for experienced practitioners to undertake research into practice-based questions, this means my experience is an integral part of the doctorate learning journey.

Experience on the programme

The Professional Nursing Doctorate has an innovate design. The structured approach was really appealing and I was delighted to be able to be part of the first cohort. The taught element provides great structure and discipline which is hard to achieve whilst working full time and trying to study. The cohort members are brilliant, they really enhance the learning and support experience. Now we are in the fourth year of this five year programme we are transitioning to the research degrees programme which continues to be supportive but in a less structured way.

I really value having the time to think about my subject area in depth. The extensive reading around my subject area, being part of a motivated learning community, and being inspired by the tutors and colleagues makes this a very special experience. The professional doctorate offers a very tailored approach. It acknowledges that you are already an expert in your field. There is support in all areas of your development, the tutors really believe in you which gives you confidence to carry on!

Future plans

For the future, my aim is to explore ways to share my research and contribute to the development of the nursing profession in a range of roles.