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The implications of health policy for nursing

25 April 2019
Volume 28 · Issue 8


Nursing needs policy, it provides the context to nurses' practice, roles, and knowledge and frames patients' day-to-day lives. This article defines what is meant by policy and what influences its development. With the use of health policy examples, the implications for nursing are explained and ideas on how policy is implemented in practice set out. As health is a devolved issue policy comparisons are made between the four regions of the UK. Finally, the implications of current policy change on nursing roles and skill mix shows how future developments in the nursing profession are being directed.

Health policy frames our professional roles; it defines nursing practice and knowledge, prioritises and targets resources and directly impacts on our patients' day-to-day lives. Nurses might argue that we ‘don't do policy’ but, in the highly politicised setting of the NHS, when nurses are in the front line of health policy delivery, this is not an option (Traynor, 2013). For example, NHS England's new NHS Long Term Plan (2019) guarantees investment in community practice, primary care, mental health and improved integration so that health and social services, and local government, work in partnership to deliver more personalised care (NHS England, 2019). This policy requires implementation of new service models (see case study A, Box 1), bespoke patient-focused care and greater use of digital technology, all of which directly impact on nurses: what knowledge they need, how they work, how they develop as a profession (see case study B, Box 2). Health policy provides the context to modern nursing practice. Policy is all around us and to be effective as practitioners we need to understand it.

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