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RCN and RCM harden their opposition to health bill

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.”

Readers' comments (48)

  • tinkerbell

    I am breaking my 7 day boycott of posting to say

    HALLELUJAH! at last we are saying 'NO'.

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  • Do I hear the sound of the RCN climbing down off the fence?

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  • A fine piece of pro govt editing there NT!

    Actual quote:
    ""There used to be a professional association that was working with us on professional issues and will carry on doing that, but now the trade union aspect of the Royal College of Nursing has come to the fore, they want to have a go at the Government - I completely understand it - but they want to have a go about things like pay and pensions."

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  • Recent tweet:
    WelshGasDoc @welsh_gas_doc

    Day 1 of medical school, we are told "NEVER piss off the nurses, they can make your life a misery". Somebody should have told Lansley this.


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  • Anonymous | 19-Jan-2012 2:11 pm

    very wise advise!

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  • what was prov govmt about it?

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  • Well done Unions. We need to keep the decision to cut red tape, though! Wish they woulds come off the fence about Assisted killing a\nd stand up for the ethics of nursing

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  • Well done Unions-keep ressure up. Wish you would do the same about Assisted Killing and stand fopur-square on our Nursing Code-"First, do no harm"

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  • At last !! Doctors Midwives & Nurses all against so how CAN it go through ???
    However pessimistic me thinks they will just bulldoze their way through . We have to stand up against it & stay strong for our patients.

    What more can we do ?

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  • It's Lansley's Poll Tax moment. The whole health care profession is telling him NO. Yet he continues to plough his own furrow!
    His job depends on his unelected gvt forcing through the Bill. It really isn't about anything as noble as patients' health anymore. It's very sad that the NHS is being destroyed by this silly man's ego. It makes me weep.

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  • doesn't lanley have a wife who is a GP behind him?

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  • Add your voice here pro or against nhs reforms:

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  • tinkerbell

    Anonymous | 19-Jan-2012 8:56 pm


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  • Anonymous | 19-Jan-2012 8:56 pm

    Done also!

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  • Steve Williams

    Anonymous | 19-Jan-2012 8:56 pm

    Done too.

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  • So the Rcn want people to join them... as they are amongst the last to oppose this rubbish surely he means that they will join all those who were wiser than him and saw through the shambles ages ago???

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  • tinkerbell

    From 38 degrees email

    'I wanted to get in touch with an update on the NHS campaign. It's been a bit quiet over the last few weeks, but things are about to hot up again. So, this is an unusual 38 Degrees email. There's no urgent action to take and no donations required. This is just so you know what's happening and what to expect in the next few weeks.

    Andrew Lansley is still trying to get his plan through parliament. It finally passed through the House of Commons last summer. It has been in the House of Lords for the last few months. Before Christmas thousands of 38 Degrees members contacted the Lords with concerns as the plan went through "committee stage".

    On February 8th the next stage in the House of Lords begins - "report stage". [1] Report stage will last a few weeks. This could be the final time that the House of Lords discusses the NHS plans in detail.

    Before report stage starts, we can expect the government to announce if it will make any changes in response to our campaigning. Our people powered legal team is standing by to quickly analyse the proposed changes. They will cut through the spin and legal speak, so we are able to respond together.

    Once report stage starts, the Lords will have another chance to vote on changes to Lansley's plan. They will be able to vote both on changes proposed by the government and changes proposed by other Lords. Some votes could be very close. We may have to work together quickly to make sure the votes go the right way.

    When we hear the government announcements and see what changes they are proposing, 38 Degrees members will have to vote together to decide what we should do next. This is likely to be within the next 2 weeks.

    At the moment, we're hearing a mixture of rumours on how much ground Andrew Lansley might have given. On the one hand, there are some encouraging signs that Lib Dem Lords have secured important concessions on keeping the Secretary of State’s "duty to provide" a health service.

    On the other hand, just yesterday the Royal College Of Nurses and Royal College of Midwives announced that they thought Lansley's plans were still very dangerous. They argue that the best thing would be for them to be scrapped altogether. [2]

    We will need to be ready to move fast and vote to decide together what we do next.

    It’s amazing to think that when we first started to campaign to protect our NHS, people told us we were wasting our time. They said the changes would be done and dusted by December 2010. But we didn’t give up. We kept up the pressure and defended our health service.

    By working together we've formed the biggest campaign ever to protect the NHS. We are now half a million strong. We've signed petitions, delivered them to our MPs’ doorsteps and put pressure on key politicians. Over the last few months over 50,000 of us have contacted members of the House of Lords. On top of that we’ve funded a crack legal team to get to the truth of what’s on the table and to expose the full extent of the government's plans.

    It’s nearly a year and a half since we started the campaign. Soon we’ll need to be ready for another big push. There will be more than a few politicians hoping that we’re worn out by now, or that we’ve got bored and decided to do something else. Time and again, 38 Degrees members have proven wrong those who’ve doubted our commitment. We know how important our NHS is, and that's why we'll keep working together to protect it.

    So, please watch out for an email in the next couple of weeks asking you to help decide what we do next. In the meantime, if you've got any thoughts or ideas you'd like to share with other 38 Degrees members you can do that on the website here:

    or on Facebook:

    Thanks for all you've done so far,

    Johnny, David, Hannah, Cian, Becky, Marie and the 38 Degrees team

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  • Steve Williams

    So Unison, Unite, the GMC, the RMC et al. and even the RCN have eventually joined the campaign against the latest NHS reform proposals... Doctors and Nurses - Yeahhh!!!

    Health unions have described their opposition to the health bill as an “unprecedented united front” (NT 19th January 2012)

    Where does the Nursing Times stand on this issue now?

    I mean the NT has, in the recent past, actively campaigned against such major life-threatening issues as NHS car-parking, charges - with no apparent effect.

    But where does the NT now stand on a real issue such as the current opposition to the proposed Tory bill.

    As someone else said earlier - as ALL the Nursing unions and professional bodies as well as the Midwives and Doctors unions have opposed the bill....

    So will the NT actually stop sitting on the fence and start a campaign to oppose the bill? After all The Nursing Times has that word "Nursing" in it. It's not "The Times" and it's not supposed to be an "unbiased" or "subjective" periodical but a magazine that is - naturally - nurse orientated and biased.

    So the big Nursing unions got into the fight first. The RCN has now (better late than never) seemingly grown a pair.... Where's the support from The 'NURSING' Times and how long will it take them to join 'US' the vast majority who oppose this bill?

    What possible reason could the NT have for not representing the very people who subscribe to their magazine?


    1) Maybe they want to remain impartial - just like they did about car-parking fees for NHS Nurses.... Oh yeah they didn't remain impartial about that one did they, even though it was major whinging compared to nurses having their pensions cut????

    2) Perhaps somebody's getting some funds from somewhere to keep MUM about it? I think they call it "bribing the press."

    3) Perhaps somebody (or their parent organisation) has been paying the Tory party some of your subscription money into their "war chest!"

    Anyway, it's all the probably the product of my fevered emotion but it would, actually, be interesting to see an Editorial column about where The Nursing Times Stands on this issue and whether they will also join in the fight that the majority of Registered Nurses have already engaged in.

    If the NT doesn't stand by the Registered Nurses in this cause then it would have been like if the whole of Fleet Street (i.e. the UK media at the time) simply reported the facts about WWII instead of supporting the war effort against the Nazis.

    So come on NT... on which side of the fence do you stand?

    For this bill or against it?
    For the Nurses or against them?

    And BTW. As usual I am keeping a copy of this letter on my hard drive.

    Delete if you wish - for whatever reasons you wish... I'll just keep re-posting it (or variations of it) ... just like the last time my fellow nurses will actually read this message and then wonder why you had the audacity to delete it for no reason.

    I am just expressing an opinion which is probably not the same as yours - but I am a Registered Nurse - I am entitled to it.

    You might not like the fact that I have said The Nursing Times (via it's publishing company) makes donations to the Conservative Party... but you have never denied the fact - just retracted my messages.

    So does your parent company/publisher make at least a five-figure annual donation to the Conservative party?

    A simple yes or no might help!

    It also might help to understand why you haven't mounted a campaign against this particular bill!

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  • We thought it time to make it clear, although it is probably already obvious to most readers, that Nursing Times has not at any time supported the Health Bill or made donations to the conservative government.

    We have, instead, been critical of the proposed health bill and rallied in our 'Seat on the Board' campaign for nurses to gain seats on consortia.

    Our publication and staff, which includes nurses, support nurses in their jobs to be the best nurses they can be.

  • tinkerbell

    steve don't think the NT censors work out of hours and at the weekend so your post should at least survive this weekend.Not that there's anything wrong with it anyway.

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  • telegraph online

    "Royal College of Nursing nothing more than trade union: Andrew Lansley
    The Royal College of Nursing has stopped being a professional body and become a trade union determined to oppose reforms, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has said.

    Andrew Lansley
    By Rebecca Smith, Medical Editor7:30AM GMT 20 Jan 2012"

    "He told BBC Breakfast: "I'm afraid the only thing that has happened in the last few weeks that has led to this situation with the Royal College of Nursing is that the two sides of the Royal College of Nursing have shifted.

    "There used to be a professional association that was working with us on professional issues and will carry on doing that, but now the trade union aspect of the Royal College of Nursing has come to the fore, they want to have a go at the Government - I completely understand it - but they want to have a go about things like pay and pensions."

    Didn't Lansley know that the RCN is a trade union as well as a professional body?

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