Nursing leaders have pledged action in the wake of criticism by Robert Francis QC that they have not done enough to respond to his seminal report.
Two of the largest organisations representing nurses in the UK, the Royal College of Nursing and Unison, have said they will issue full and detailed responses to the Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust Inquiry report in the coming weeks.
They have also defended their roles in speaking up for nurses after Mr Francis argued that the profession had not reacted adequately to his report. In an exclusive interview, he claimed the nursing profession had been less responsive than either NHS managers or the medical profession and said he had little optimism that the strength of the “nursing voice” was being improved.
In the wake of the criticism, Nursing Times held in-depth interviews last week with senior figures from the RCN and Unison.
Both organisations accepted Mr Francis’ comments but insisted they were committed to spreading awareness of his findings and recommendations to their members as well as engaging with the government and NHS to implement resultant changes.
Both unions told Nursing Times they will be meeting with the barrister this week to discuss issues in his inquiry report in greater detail.
RCN chief executive Peter Carter accepted the college may not have been as “proactive”, or clear, enough about what it was doing following the inquiry report. But he said it was “unfortunate” Mr Francis had not picked up on the work the RCN had been doing following the publication of his report.
“What we should have been a bit better about doing was to make clear what our process was. It made sense to wait until [RCN] congress in April and then issue our full response to the report in June,” he said.
“I want to be clear we welcome the report and its recommendations. There were criticisms [of the RCN] in the report, but we didn’t get defensive about that,” he added.
He said the fresh criticisms from Mr Francis would make the RCN “re-focus” on what it needed to do to get its message out to a wider audience.
Regarding Mr Francis’ comments about the “voice of nursing”, Mr Carter rejected the suggestion that nursing was a poorer relation to medicine.
However, he said: “I know that medics respect nurses but I do acknowledge if a president of a [medical] royal college says something they are more likely to be listened to than someone like myself. I think that is because doctors still have an innate sense of trust from the public.”
But he highlighted the union’s vocal campaigning on a range of issues, including A&E pressures and minimum staffing levels. He said: “We are a strong voice for nursing but if people aren’t seeing it then we need to think about that and how we get out there.”
Meanwhile, Unison’s head of nursing Gail Adams said the NHS owed Mr Francis a “debt of gratitude” and that she had “utmost respect and admiration for the work he has done”.
“We are a trade union, not a professional association, but we have reflected on what else we have to do,” she told Nursing Times.
She said the union has analysed the inquiry’s main findings and given a report to every delegate at Unison’s health conference in April, where Mr Francis’s findings were heavily discussed.
A full response from the union would be published “before the summer” she said.
Ms Adams said Unison was working on a training project with branch members and hospital staff about the wider NHS system and the importance of raising concerns.
On the wider voice of the profession, she said: “I don’t think nursing is as politicised as it needs to be. Perhaps nurses feel they are not being heard. They are also constantly being vilified in the national media.”
She added: “I have read and re-read the report and it has challenged me and made me reflect. Do I think the profession is perfect? No. Does more need to be done to ensure nurses raise concerns? Yes, and we will got out there and ensure nurses know we have got their back.”
Nursing Times also spoke to former NHS London chief nurse Trish Morris-Thompson. She said: “Given the current structure in the NHS it’s difficult to have a single voice for nursing.”
But she added that the new national nursing strategy, Compassion in Practice, which includes the 6Cs, had the “full support of all nurse leaders and demonstrates a willingness to act for patients”.
“The Safe Staffing Alliance is another example of nurse leaders standing up for what we believe is in the best interest of patient care,” she added.
The group, which includes Ms Morris-Thompson, Ms Adams and Mr Carter has recently gained attention in the national press, after highlighting the need for mandatory national nurse-patient ratios.
No one was available to comment last week from NHS England.