Every day, on every shift, senior charge nurses have helped to make sure that the checklist of actions set out under the Scottish Patient Safety Programme, which are crucial to improving hospital care, are implemented in practice by the staff under their supervision.
More than that, though, senior charge nurses are in the perfect position to be inspirational leaders and role models for staff to help ensure that patients who go into hospital get safe and compassionate care.
However, in too many situations they are not able to exert their influence fully, because they have all the responsibility of being in charge of improving and maintaining standards of care, but little authority needed to make changes.
Surveys of senior charge nurses by the Royal College of Nursing in Scotland have also found that too often, senior charge nurses are counted in as a member of the ward team with direct responsibility for a patient caseload.
This prevents them from providing clinical leadership and supervising staff on the ward.
And many senior charge nurses report spending too much time on administration and form filling, and do not have vital admin support.
Solutions to these problems are not easy to come up with in the current straitened economic climate.
But if senior charge nurses are to exert their influence to its best effect for improving patient care they need to be freed up from irrelevant responsibilities to exercise their authority in the right area – ensuring safe and effective patient care.
• Theresa Fyffe is director of the Royal College Of Nursing Scotland.