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Nursing leaders pledge action in response to critical review of progress from Robert Francis

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.

Readers' comments (6)

  • tinkerbell

    bought bloody time. Yes let's see some ACTION puhleese!

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  • tinkerbell

    God help em when they meet with Robert Francis, he's better on his worst day than they are on their best day. Love to be a fly on the wall for that one with all the wriggling. twitching, squirming bums on seats when Robert asks the pertinent questions on why they haven't been more forceful in their so called 'commitment'.

    Way to go Robert! Tell it like it is my good man.

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  • Well Carter, there you have it. After years of keeping quiet, letting the government do the running, and not doing anything. You've been caught out...ha! So the question I want ask you Dr Carter is, are you going to change the way you deal with government. You are a decent man, I suspect, but you must be totally ruthless when dealing with government. Cameron wouldn't speak to the RMT in the same way he does to us. The consequences for him would be painful if he did. Take a lesson, being nice does not work!!!

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  • MeThinks

    It is coming to something, when Robert Francis is telling off the RCN for not doing enough to empower nursing:

    'he had little optimism that the strength of the “nursing voice” was being improved.'

    The RCN was far too compliant and meek, while the NHS reforms were being pushed by this goverment, and only after the Act - too late - has the RCN started to be more outspoken: and it still does not stand up strongly enough for nursing.

    tinkerbell | 21-May-2013 8:06 am

    Yes - they are probably deciding who gets the short straw and will get a grilling from Francis as I write.

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  • I cannot understand the NHS Chief Nurse for London when she commented that its difficult for nurses to have a single voice! I find her comment a brush off! Surely , as a Chief Nurse ,Public Relations is part of her role! She should have made a statement ,accepting the findings of the Mid Staffs report and reassured nurses AND patients that the nursing profession will take his reccommendations seriously. I must say that I agree with Mr Francis regarding the nursing response to his report. As a student nurse, i feel let down by the nursing leadership demonstrated so far.

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  • seems to be the only CNO's response to the Francis Report

    nothing else seems to be recorded since although she has a Tweet which I don't have an account for.

    Jane Cummings’ voicepiece

    28 February, 2013


    http://cno.dh.gov.uk/2013/02/28/jane-cummings-voicepiece-5/

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