Do you know how you are going to vote on 8 June? Two party leaders hoping to persuade nurses to mark the X in the box next to their names addressed the Royal College of Nursing Congress this week, but the one who stayed away arguably got noticed more – by her absence.
Despite the snap election being called and no doubt making campaign trail planning even more busy than usual, both the leaders of the Labour Party and Liberal Democrats made time to be in Liverpool. While both Jeremy Corbyn and Tim Farron accepted the RCN’s invitation to speak to Congress, Theresa May did not even reply until a second invitation was issued.
And to that, her officials responded by email. They said that Ms May could not come, but that she wished the delegates a successful conference and pointed out that the Conservative government recognised the great job nurses did and that is why they had invested in more nurse posts while they had been in power.
She might as well have typed “Nurses, I do not want your votes” in 10 feet high letters and flown it from a plane high about the Mersey docks.
“Ms May clearly thinks she has lost the nursing vote”
Her response showed the same lack of insight that she has been accused of since the now infamous Andrew Marr “foodbank” interview, where she did not acknowledge the poverty-stricken position many nurses find themselves in.
Ms May clearly thinks she has lost the nursing vote, or doesn’t need it. So much so she isn’t prepared to fight for it personally or to spare her health secretary’s time – or even that of a junior minister – to go and talk to the largest workforce in the NHS.
Our recent Nursing Times poll suggests that nearly half of nurses plan to vote Labour next month – though the Tories were second with 16% – and I am sure the prime minister would have faced some tough questions at congress. But surely, if she really cares about the NHS that much, then she should be prepared to defend her party’s record on it.
“This government needs to hear the nurses who talk about making a choice between keeping their houses or paying for food”
Shouldn’t she have given RCN members the chance to ask her why they have had their pay cut 14% in real terms in the last seven years, why the Conservatives have failed to give the much promised parity of esteem for mental health, why health visitor posts have been slashed, why this government has wielded an axe at social care budgets and removed the student bursary without so much of a hint at a proper consultation? And perhaps worst of all, why it has introduced schemes to try to resource the profession – such as the nursing associate - without consulting it properly.
This government needs to speak to nurses. More than that it needs to listen. It needs to hear the nurses who talk about making a choice between keeping their houses or paying for food, as one delegate talked about at congress this week.
It needs to hear the emotion in the voices of people who have been driven to consider striking, because they are so desperate they do not know what else to do.
But Ms May stayed away. As congress pointed out, her response was disrespectful. And I think this profession has been disrespected enough. So I wonder what impact Ms May’s no-show will have at the polls on 8 June.