Dame Christine Beasley, CNO of England

Profiles in Nursing

Dame Christine Beasley, CNO of England

By Elizabeth Hanink, RN, BSN, PHN
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England’s healthcare system is fundamentally different from that of the United States. Among the differences is that the English have a chief nursing officer who represents the interests of the country’s 600,000 nurses while also ensuring that nursing delivers what the public needs.

From 2004 to 2012, that CNO was Christine Beasley, who served concurrently as the Department of Health’s director general for professional leadership and for children, families and maternity as well as lead director of the Reducing Health Associated Infections and Cleaner Hospitals Programmes.

Early Career

Like many nurses, Beasley’s passion for nursing began when she was a child. She trained at Royal London Hospital, graduating in 1962. However, after a few years as a staff nurse, she “retired” to raise a family. “I wish I had realized I would be able to have a career and a family,” she said later. “It was made clear to me in my training I would have to choose.”

Beasley reentered the workforce in 1984 and began to take on administrative roles. More senior figures began urging her to apply for higher positions within the local health authority of Ealing, the borough of west London where Beasley and her family live. This required her to move beyond her “comfort zone,” but she was motivated by her desire to contribute to the success of all nurses.

By the mid-90s, she had risen to the rank of regional nurse director and was much admired for her leadership ability, powers of persuasion and grasp of strategy. A series of posts in the National Health Service (NHS) followed, leading to her appointment as CNO in late 2004.

Into the Storm

As chief nursing officer, Beasley was at the forefront of the nursing profession in England. It wasn’t always easy. As in the U.S., nursing in England is only in the public eye when, as she puts it, “they’re all moaning about it and it’s all bad.”

She served during a time of fiscal belt-tightening, multiple NHS scandals and public outcry over high rates of hospital-acquired infections and poor care for the elderly. She worked to increase the capacity of England’s nursing and midwifery workforce to better meet the requirements of a restructured and modernized national healthcare system.

 Although much of her career was spent far from the bedside, Beasley maintained, “You do not have to be looking after patients day after day to understand what the issues are.” Under her leadership, there was growth in nursing research, an expansion of roles in primary care and greater flexibility and better salaries for nurses.

 She also worked to expand successful nurse practitioner-run walk-in-centers and promote the role of the nurse as a role model for healthy living.

Many Honors

Beasley has received five honorary doctorates and in June 2008 was appointed dame commander of the British empire (DBE), the female equivalent of a senior knighthood.

 Since her second retirement in 2012, she has remained actively involved with nursing, continuing to serve as chair of the board of governors at Bucks New University and on various health-related trusts and committees.

In a 2011 interview with Nursing Times entitled “What I Wish I’d Known When I Was Studying,” Beasley said, “I wish I had known what a great career I would have … but perhaps not — the surprises along the way have been great!”  

Elizabeth Hanink, RN, BSN, PHN, is a Working Nurse staff writer with extensive hospital and community-based nursing experience.

This article is from workingnurse.com.

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