Delegates were offered a new term to add to the growing lexicon of phrases invented to describe elements of the government's modernisation programme for the NHS.

Health minister John Denham introduced the idea of the 'nurse champion' heading regional task teams, each with£100,000 to spend on innovative schemes in hospitals, surgeries and clinics to improve the working lives of all staff by making the NHS more flexible, supportive and family friendly. The task forces would have representatives from all the professions and be 'headed by a nurse champion' - a notion that did not go down well with some delegates.

AHHRM national secretary Sally Storey said: 'It's a pity that everyone seems to think the NHS is just about nurses.'

John Adsett, head of project development at Basildon and Thurrock General Hospitals trust, said that there was too little money attached to the idea to make much difference.'If they are going to do things like identify best practice within a region, and then spend the money to disseminate that, it would be a lot more use.'

But managers will get a resource pack as part of a£1m 'improving working lives' campaign, which Mr Denham promised would offer a 'sharper, more practical focus' to existing work to make the NHS a better place to work.

'We realise that you will need to convince your own staff - hard-pressed clinical managers, for example, who may have difficulty thinking imaginatively and recognising that it's much better to have someone around for part of the time than for them to leave altogether.'

A senior manager from the service would be appointed to lead the campaign.