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Don't alienate nurses, new health secretary warned


New health secretary Jeremy Hunt must listen to nurses and re-build trust in the government or risk igniting further industrial action, Nursing Times has been told.

Andrew Lansley was last week replaced by Mr Hunt, previously the culture secretary, in a shock move as part of a ministerial reshuffle.

Ministers Simon Burns, Anne Milton and Paul Burstow were also been replaced by Norman Lamb, Daniel Poulter and Anna Soubry.

Nursing leaders said they were nervous about how Mr Hunt – who has little experience of health - would approach the sensitive issues of pay, terms and conditions, and urged him to show willingness to re-build bridges with the profession.

Unions will press for the new team to adopt a more conciliatory approach to divisive discussions including terms and conditions, pensions and regional pay. Specifically they will seek for Mr Hunt to come out against what they see as an “attack” on the national Agenda for Change agreement (see right).

Relations between staff and Mr Lansley soured as he pushed through his highly unpopular Health Act, which was opposed by unions, and he remained unpopular.

One senior nursing source involved in developing policy told Nursing Times ministers should avoid the key pitfall of alienating nursing on pay, terms and conditions. The source said: “This would put everything else that is being done at risk.

“There is the issue of always blaming nurses when things go wrong, and we don’t reward people very much at the moment. If we are talking about making nurses even more hard pressed then I wouldn’t blame them for walking away.”

Unions said a failure to listen on the part of new ministers could further exacerbate tensions with government, and raise the prospect of further industrial action.

RCN director of nursing and service delivery Janet Davies said: “Nurses are reasonable - we will give someone a chance and we would expect them to be talking to us very soon.

“But nurses are very tired at the moment, they don’t feel they have been supported. They have seen attacks on their pay and pensions and they are working harder than they have ever worked. They will start to get frustrated.”

She warned the new DH team: “There will be much less risk for patient care if they work with us than if they work against us.”

Head of health at Unison Christina McAnea, who is chair of the NHS staff side council, said: “Jeremy Hunt and his team need urgently to rebuild the trust of patients and health service staff.

“He could begin by restating the government’s commitment to national pay bargaining and the Agenda for Change system, and insisting that trusts abide by this.

“Beyond this, he needs to ensure the transition to the new system protects NHS values and principles, as cherished by the nation and celebrated by the recent Olympics opening ceremony.”

Dean Royles, director of NHS Employers, the body that represents NHS trusts and often negotiates with health unions on behalf of the government, also stressed the need for ministers to be cautious. He said: “Relationships count in the NHS… Pensions, revalidation, employee relations and staff engagement are all crucial issues that will need careful handling.”

Mr Hunt will also have to respond in coming months to the report of Robert Francis QC’s public inquiry into the care scandal at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust. Its recommendations are expected to have major implications for the NHS, particularly for nursing.


Readers' comments (11)

  • Hunt is worse than lansley!!!

    This is a man who co-wrote a piece about the NHS being a 60 year mistake

    This is a man who wants the NHS privatised and an american style insurance system in place

    This is a man who has just rushed through the privatisation of nhs surrey community services

    This is a man who is going to rush through another 8 billion pounds worth of private contracts in the nhs..see the Green rooms website for the blog!!

    So dont hold your breath he is another lying scheming tory who does not give a toss about the NHS or its nurses!!

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    Conservative website

    Join the Conservatives and support the healthcare reforms

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  • re-above

    hello david cameron did not realise you read these threads!!!

    now why dont you get back to your job of totally ruining the country and the lives of the ordinary working people

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  • i hope 'nursing' is not going to be blamed for mid-staffs. what about the people who employed these staff and those who chose to ignore warnings?

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  • they are managers so will probably get a golden handshake and then move onto another hospital and run that into the ground

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  • Anonymous | 12-Sep-2012 10:42 am

    Hi, are you a Conservative?

    It would be good to seem more support from them on these pages?

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  • The NHS needs a range of disciplines to ensure the end goal of safe high quality patient care in whatever setting is delivered- they may be nurses, AHPs, managers, lab techs, HCAs, porters etc I could go on. Lets not forget that- so to blame nurses alone would demonstrate a lack of understanding around the eco-system that is a hospital- (ref Mid Staffs). It should be understood in that context. Cant blame one component unilaterally

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  • could it be that privatisation of nursing would raise profile, quality and salaries through competition. the profession may be more successful with better resources and weeding out those who fail to offer care of the highest standards and offer further training and CPD needs.

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  • Jeremy Hunt... Hmm. Thought he was implicated in the phone hacking scandal? So far, he has been anti NHS all the way. Basically, it would not matter who was given the job, the remit is to privatise the NHS, cut salaries (don't believe that privatisation of nursing will help, you will get no unsocial hours and terrible pension rights), and pass the buck if anything goes wrong so the Government does not get blamed.

    I may sound cynical and you will be right. Unfortunately, we are being blamed for the economic crisis and the bankers are being let off the hook. We have no power to resist and I agree with the commenter who said that as usual, nurses get criticises and incompetent managers leave with a golden handshake.

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  • Don't alienate nurses, new health secretary warned....., it's too late!

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