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RCN rejects split calls in row with Hunt


The Royal College of Nursing Congress has almost unanimously rejected calls for the organisation to split into two in a direct rebuttal to criticisms from the health secretary that there is a conflict of interest in the current set up.

The row between the RCN and health secretary Jeremy Hunt began this morning when general secretary and chief executive Peter Carter launched a scathing attack on the government’s plans to require trainee nurses to complete a year working as a healthcare assistant before starting their full training.

Mr Carter claimed the policy had been formed “on the back of a napkin” in response to the Francis report into Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust and had “more holes than a Swiss cheese”.

Asked about the criticisms in an interview with Sky News at lunchtime, Mr Hunt said the RCN had its own “very serious questions” to answer in relation to its involvement with Mid Staffs.

Mr Hunt added: “Let me say this, I think the Royal College of Nursing have got to be very, very careful. They missed what happened at Mid Staffs. The Francis report levelled some very serious criticisms about it. It said that they basically allowed their trade union responsibilities to trump their responsibilities as a royal college to raise professional standards and that they have a conflict of interest.”

Robert Francis QC recommended the RCN give consideration to splitting its functions into a professional body and a trade union

In response to Mr Hunt’s comments the RCN council tabled an emergency resolution this afternoon. In total 99.34% of the 455 voting members present at the session agreed that the RCN was “more effective because of its dual role as a Royal College and a trade union”.

Council chair Kathleen McCourt told congress the RCN’s professional work enhanced the trade union work and “vice versa”. She gave the example of staffing levels as an area which is informed by both members on the front line and professional practice.

East Midlands council member David Harding-Price said: “Our strength is being able to address both the professional side and the trade union side… The doctors are split [into trade union and professional colleges] and Mid Staffs still happened; Unison and other unions don’t have a professional arm and Mid Staffs still happened.”


Readers' comments (17)

  • Mr Hunt why don't you also require trainee doctors to complete a year working in accountancy as that is where you want to take the NHS into the private sector, where doctors run the health business.
    You insist trainee nurses become care assistants first as that will teach them to care. It seems that you are implying that generally nurses are not caring or the probability of having a caring nurse is greater if that nurse becomes a carer first. As a doctor you suprised me on that assumption.
    Please show us the evidence.
    I work wih a nurse who was a carer first and she is a very difficult person to work with, yet I am not so stupid to believe that all nurses who are carers first are difficult people. If this person was employed any where else people would have the same problems with her.

    As for spliting the RCN in two parts it does not matter either way, what matters is to do the job without fear or favor.

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  • Hi
    I am led to believe that only nurses were employed at Mid Staffs, what about the docs, AHPs, radiotherapists, domestics, etc,etc,
    We are an easy target. If you are not a caring person 20 years as a HCA wont make a difference!
    Deal with the number of nurses on shifts and stop trying to scapegoat the nurses

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  • Asking trainee nurses to work as healthcare assistants for a year is just delaying the process and unlikely to attract candidates. Why oh, why not just get the training and education worked out properly? Why, oh why not recruit nursing students from people who are caring in the first place? I believe that the ability to be caring is innate and you cannot and should not have to be taught it. I still think that healthcare assistants are just being used as task orientated poorly paid staff and used as an excuse to save money than paying and recruiting trained staff. Wards are run on far more trained nurses than ever before and the care is worse... what is that all about? Well, the poor training and poor recruitment. In fact, I feel that we are getting much better caring students through now who also use their brain cells. At long last I feel there even be hope for nursing and care of ill people, (not to mention improving the health of the nation), in the future.

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  • it seems that it is once again pushing the real issues to the side instead of investigating and addressing them, and applying yet another sticking plaster. the issues won't go away with this method but just create more and more problems which may become increasingly more apparent after time has passed making them even more difficult and costly to deal with.

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  • Odd. I was encouraged to do a year as an HCA before moving into training and that was thirty years ago. Hardly a new idea is it?

    Also I fail to see the difference between this option and what is currently occurring with HCAs and Apprentices securing a vocational qualification with many then subsequently going on to nurse training. It can't be a cost thing as it would mean that people would have to be salaried for an extra year, what it does mean is that nurses who subsequently qualify via this route will have accrued more insight into direct patient care and experience on day one of their course.

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  • @ Anon 1.24pm.

    You are wrong. It is exactly about the money. Universities will have to wait a year for people to start training and because of that an extra year before they can receive funding.

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  • A lot of the time trained nurses are taken away from the bedside to attend to the reams of unnecessary paperwork. This does leave a lot of the basic work that is vitally important in the hands of the HCAs. I have worked with some appalling HCAs and also some very good ones. It appears from the Francis report that it is at this level where there were a lot of failings. Of course under staffing played a part but also poor training of HCA's. Presumably it would be the latter who these trainee nurses would be working with so potentially exacerbating an already poor situation.

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  • Problem is student nurses are accepted onto training courses on the basis they will achieve the academic standard not on the basis that they have the attitude and personal skills to get on with and care for people many of whom are quite vulnerable.
    I feel that making student nurses supernumerary on wards has not helped matters and may somehow have given students an idea that they (not all) can choose not to be hands on.
    I agree with previous comment that there are many other professional involved in a patients care and they also have accountability for the overall standards of care within a hospital setting.

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  • michael stone

    Opening myself up to being bashed here, but:

    1) It would make sense for nursing to have a Royal college which is separate from 'union' activity;

    2) I think the 'you have to work as an HCA before we let you come on the course (or I think 'before we give you a grant' ?)' was not intended to claim that 'caring' people cannot be 'academic'. It was, I think, an attempt to deter people who are academic to the near exclusion of 'being caring centred'.

    3) As I've been writing on this site for months, do not allow the goverment to sidetrack the issues about resources, management, etc, by rabbiting on ONLY about the 'caring or non-caring 'attitude'' of nurses - it seems to have won that battle, and distracted everyone from what Francis actually said !

    COMMENT: I'm sure there are loads of great nurses, and great HCAs, out there !

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  • Making students work as HCAs might have been feasible when we had Schools of nursing. Now we have universities, how would a person go about becoming a nurse? Would they have apply to an individual hospital/ trust? Or spend 4 years on the books of a university? That initial year would be very difficult to arrange. Suppose your local hospital/ trust has no vacancies. How far would a student/HCA commute?

    Training can be a good thing, but it has to necessary. Students spend long periods of time on wards already. Maybe they could spend longer periods in clinical areas such as care of the older person. This would seem more practical to me. Having droves of would be student nurses arriving at a hospital might affect the job prospects of potential HCAs. After all if you know every year your trust will get x amount of trainees for a year. Why bother hiring anyone else?

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