The royal colleges of nursing and midwives have openly opposed the government’s health and social care bill for the first time, and called for it to be scrapped.
The Royal College of Nursing, which had not previously opposed the bill as a whole, said serious concerns about the legislation had not been addressed during the parliamentary process, last year’s listening exercise or political engagement.
It said it had taken this decision at this point because it had come to the decision that the “proposals will not deliver on the principles originally set out”.
Additionally, it said recent announcements such as the rise in the cap on private patients being treated in NHS hospitals to almost half (49%) made the bill in its entirety a serious threat to the NHS.
Meanwhile, the Royal College of Midwives said the bill should be “scrapped”. It said it had consistently voiced its concerns about the bill “with little response or movement on its key concerns from the government”.
The hardening of stance from the colleges follows a move by the British Medical Association in December to also fully oppose the bill, which is currently going through parliament.
The bill is due to enter the report stage in the House of Lords at the beginning of February. This is likely to be the final stage of debate in the Lords and will last four or five weeks before it returns to the House of Commons prior to receiving royal assent.
RCN chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter told Nursing Times the college had chosen to oppose the health and social care bill because it believed it would really “destabilise” the NHS. “We felt there was a lack of a proper plan to implement the changes”.
“We had committed to work with it but things are desperate out there. We are getting calls from our members, thousands of our members, saying that there is a planning vacuum, and they are not sure about their future,” he said.
He also criticised the timing and strategy of trying to reform the NHS at the same time as the service was trying to make the massive efficiency savings identified by NHS chief executive Sir David Nicholson.
Mr Carter said: “We need a robust project plan costing billions. The £20bn Nicholson challenge is not being applied using intelligent thinking, hence the decision we have made.”
He told Nursing Times the college was now hoping to get buy-in from likeminded individuals, who were similarly concerned about the bill. A number of Labour and Liberal Democrat peers have previously tabled proposed amendments to the bill.
Mr Carter said: “We are going to up the pressure and temperature. We know we have no statutory or legislative levers. We anticipate as a result of this that we will get buy in from other organisations and politicians.”
Commenting on the RCM decision, its chief executive Cathy Warwick said: “This bill is a massively expensive distraction from the challenges that the NHS faces in trying to improve healthcare at a time of severe spending restraint.
“The Royal College of Midwives supports many of the government’s aspirations for the NHS, such as clinically-led commissioning, greater engagement of service users in their care and more integrated services, but the fact of the matter is that these can all be achieved without the need for this divisive and costly bill.”
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said it was “disappointed” by the colleges’ position. She added: “During the course of the past 12 months we have been working with nursing groups to shape our plans for a modern NHS. For example, nurses will be represented on local clinical commissioning groups.
“Just two weeks ago, the prime minister set out plans welcomed by the RCN to get rid of red tape so that nurses have more time to spend with their patients.
“The RCN has conflated the health and social care bill with issues about the need for the NHS to spend its money more efficiently. The bill is needed to empower doctors, nurses, and other frontline healthcare workers across the NHS to take charge of improving care.
“We will continue to work with nurses and all other health professionals to ensure that the NHS delivers the best possible care for patients.”
Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said: “It’s hard to see how prime minister David Cameron can carry on with his health bill after the decisions taken by the Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of Midwives.”