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Keywords:

  • communication;
  • critical care nursing;
  • leadership;
  • patient outcomes

Background  Contemporary nursing leadership roles in critical care are a reflection of the changing environment in which critical care is provided.

Key issues  In the UK, critical care nursing faces challenges in the form of: reduced number and seniority of medical staff cover for acute wards; mandated responsibility for management of patients outside of critical care units, without corresponding responsibility for managing staff; increased public and political awareness of deficits in critical care; increased use of Assistant Practitioners; and emphasis on longer-term outcomes from intensive care.

Evaluation  New leadership roles have met these challenges head on with two main foci: patient management across the acute/critical care interface and hospital wide policies and practice.

Conclusions  The leadership roles examined in this paper highlight three underpinning goals: improved quality and safety of patient care; improved communication between professionals; and empowerment of junior nurses and doctors.

Implications for nursing management  There has been considerable investment in strategic leadership roles for critical care nursing; evidence is developing of the return on this investment for patient and service outcomes. Consideration must now be given to the preparation, mentorship and development of leadership roles for the next generation of nurse leaders.