The Royal College of Nursing has rejected suggestions it has weakened its opposition to the health bill, despite the apparent failure of the royal colleges to agree a consensus at the end of last week.
The Academy of Royal Colleges, which represents around 20 colleges and faculties, held a meeting last Tuesday to discuss their “continuing concerns” over the bill. A joint statement opposing the bill had been expected to follow.
However, a statement released by the academy on Wednesday said that since the meeting – dubbed by some colleges as a “summit” – there had been “extensive discussions with ministers about the detail of our concerns”. This move appeared to have scuppered the issuing of a joint statement.
But RCN head of policy Howard Catton disputed claims circulating on Friday that the college had backed down from its stance of complete opposition to the bill, announced earlier this month.
He said, if anything, there had been a “backlash” against suggestions by health secretary Andrew Lansley that nurses and midwives were campaigning against the bill out of anger at cuts to pensions.
Mr Catton said: “People feel there’s a questioning of our integrity that we [as nurses] would say this purely out of monetary reasons. [People are saying] ‘we’re not pretending to have a line-by-line knowledge of the bill but we’ve followed very closely what’s been happening and have to come to a view that we’re concerned what the impact will be for patient care’.”
He said nurses were not pretending to have a “line-by-line knowledge of the bill” but had followed developments very closely and were “concerned what the impact will be for patient care”.
RCM chief executive Cathy Warwick also hit back at Mr Lansley, describing his comments in response to their announcement opposing the bill as “below the belt”.
“What we do is about improving services for women and all our comments about the bill have been focused on that. The secretary of state knows we are absolutely about the care that women get,” she told Nursing Times.
Some groups involved in the meeting on Thursday night, including the British Medical Association, said they hoped that a more united position will arise from further discussions.
BMA consultants committee chair Mark Porter told Nursing Times just before the meeting: “This is the time that all healthcare professionals should be making an informed statement rejecting the health bill and that’s what I hope will come out of the summit”.
However, some of the medical royal colleges said this was not the aim of the meeting and that no overarching statement was expected to come from it or subsequent discussions.