The missing leaders: rediscovering the ward sister/charge nurse role

Alistair Hewison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose – The aim of this paper is to examine the leadership role of the ward sister/charge nurse in the English National Health Service and demonstrate that its influence in maintaining standards of care has been undermined. Design/methodology/approach – This is achieved through a critical review of the relevant research and policy literature. Evidence relating to recent failures in the provision of nursing care is summarised to establish the nature of the problem. This is followed by an analysis of existing research concerned with the ward sister/manager role in the context of recent policy. Findings – The evidence demonstrating that the ward sister/charge nurse is one of the key determinants of quality care has been overlooked in recent years and this in part accounts for the quality failures that have occurred in NHS hospitals of late. Practical implications – Action is needed to place the ward sister/charge nurse at the heart of the hospital system. Systems of organisational and mutual support are needed to ensure that these ward-based leaders can reach their full potential as the guardians of care. Originality/value – The perspective offered in this paper illustrates how a solution to pressing organisational problem can be found through accessing the appropriate literature. Although the recommended action may not be “new” it is novel in the sense that it is based on rediscovering a role that already exists and can be supported to bring about change, rather than seeking wholesale complex change.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)268-282
JournalLeadership in Health Services
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • Leadership, National health service, Nurses, Charge nurse, Ward sister


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