Aim. This paper describes the findings from one aspect of an evaluation study of the role of the nurse, midwife and health visitor consultant and the consultants’ perceived impact of their role on services and patient care.
Background. The nurse, midwife and health visitor consultant role was established in 2000 in England to improve patient care, strengthen leadership and provide a clinical career opportunity for nurses, midwives and health visitors. An evaluative study was commissioned to report on the role 4 years after the new consultant posts were first established.
Method. A multimethod evaluation was undertaken in 2002–2003 combining focus groups, telephone interviews and a comprehensive questionnaire survey of all the consultants in England. Four hundred and nineteen consultants responded to the questionnaire, 22 volunteered for the focus groups and 32 participated in the interviews.
Results. Nearly half (44%) the consultants who responded to the survey reported having a substantial impact on their service and 55% reported having some positive impact. High reported impact increased to 71% for those who had been in post for 2 years or longer. Consultants felt that they had been most successful in providing better support to staff, but only 10% said that they had a major impact on reducing unnecessary expenditure within the service. Factors associated with high levels of reported impact included engagement in a wide range of activities, perceived competence in the role and strong medical support. Those reporting most impact also reported the greatest dissatisfaction with salary.
Conclusion. As consultants become more established in their posts, they are able to identify improvements in practice, service reconfiguration and educational advantages for staff. Our findings suggest that the true influence of these posts will become clearer over time as the impact of consultants on long-term organizational change becomes more apparent.