Don’t take nurses’ politeness as a sign that they are OK with government’s activities and attitude.
That was the message given by the Royal College of Nursing’s chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter to the health secretary Andrew Lansley as he prepared to leave the stage after addressing the RCN Congress last week in Harrogate. True, there was an absence of nurses “kicking off” at the event, especially as he tried to hide the numbers of nurse roles being cut by claiming that clinical roles were on the rise. His recommendation that nurses raise concerns if they felt care was being compromised was met with jeers and, to say the least, a “frosty” reception.
But nurses’ dignified conduct belied how they really feel. They are wincing at the sound of the health secretary clashing the blades together as he readies himself to carve up the NHS, and it’s only good manners that stopped them unleashing a more vitriolic attack.
You only have to have compare Ed Miliband’s speech to congress 24 hours after Mr Lansley’s to judge how they really feel about the health secretary.
While the leader of the opposition refused to make promises over bringing down the retirement age, pensions and Agenda for Change, he spoke with passion, warmth and empathy for the profession, and he listened. And that, it seemed, was enough.
As one RCN delegate remarked, to be in opposition against a Tory government and addressing congress on the subject of health was an “easy gig” for Labour’s leader. Nevertheless he virtually bathed himself in the applause that came his way after he spoke. Frankly, short of him revealing he was working on getting his nursing degree just so he could help out at his local hospital when things “got a bit tight” he couldn’t have gone down better.
And when he demanded clarification at Prime Minister’s Question Time about the loss of nurses’ jobs rather than clinical roles, he proved he was listening. Job done Mr Miliband. Congress was convinced (see our interview with the leader of the opposition on page 5).
But it is Mr Lansley who is in the driving seat now – and he doesn’t seem to be in the same mood to listen to directions.
And in further bad news, the Nursing and Midwifery Council has announced its intention to increase fees from £76 to £120, just a few weeks after most nurses felt the first pinch in their pay packets because of pension contribution increases. Someone really does need to stop promising to listen and actually start doing it because enough is enough – the first cut, it seemed, wasn’t the deepest after all.