Headlines: April 5th, 2001

The Government has announced details of how it is to put matrons back in charge of NHS hospital wards.The idea was first formally raised in the NHS Plan and has large-scale public support. Five hundred matrons will be in post from next April and 2000 by 2004. National guidance to establish these new posts is being sent to all NHS Chief Executives.

Every hospital will have matrons in overall charge of a group of wards. They will be paid from 26,000 up to 31,000 pounds per year. They will have the clear authority to prevent and remedy shortcomings or failings in any services that contribute to patient care.

The plan is that their role will be to provide strong clinical leadership. Responsibilities will include the power to order tests, admit and discharge patients, run clinics, triage patients and, where appropriate, prescribe medicines. Matrons will wear distinctive uniforms to ensure that they are visible to patients and their families.

In terms of practical power, matrons will have the power to withhold payments to cleaning companies if cleaning standards are not met. They will oversee the standards of cleanliness of each of the wards in their charge.

They will also have similar sway over payments to catering companies if standards of catering are not up to scratch. They will ensure patients get their meals and are able to eat them and that the nutritional needs of all patients are met.Four million pounds will be spent training up staff to step into the posts.

The NHS Confederation cuts through the packaging of the job and describes it as a vote of confidence in strong management of the NHS.

Stephen Thornton said “The challenge is to ensure that we do not create a cadre of disconnected middle managers rather than front line leaders with their finger on the pulse.”

The NHS Confederation has pointed out that the majority of patients are not treated on hospital wards, but in outpatients and primary care, and it has called for the same level of management investment in these areas.