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Opposition grows over closure of DH nursing unit

  • Petition started against plans to close advisory unit
  • MP questions Department of Health’s decision
  • RCN chief executive writes letter to Jeremy Hunt

 Opposition is mounting to government plans to scrap the nursing and midwifery advisory unit at the Department of Health.

An influential MP has quizzed the government on the plans and the Royal College of Nursing’s chief executive has written to the health secretary about them in the wake of concerns from its members.

A petition has also been set up on the parliamentary website in protest which has already received support from over 1,000 people.

As previously reported by Nursing Times, the decision to scrap the Nursing, Midwifery and Allied Health Professions Policy Unit forms part of wider cost-cutting measures. But nursing leaders have expressed concern that it will mean nursing no longer has a voice at the highest level of policy-making.

Dr Sarah Wollaston, the former GP who chairs the Commons’ health select committee, has now submitted a series of written questions to the DH on the controversial plans.

Health select committee

Dr Sarah Wollaston

Sarah Wollaston

She asked Jeremy Hunt what steps he intends to take to “ensure nurses are consulted on the department’s future policies” given the closure of the unit. She also wanted to know “what mechanisms he plans to put in place to ensure ministers receive impartial nursing advice”.

There have also been concerns about a lack of consultation over the proposal to shut down the unit, which will see the loss of seven staff. Dr Wollaston, who is Conservative MP for Totnes, asked the health secretary whether staff and “external stakeholders” had been consulted.

Finally, she asked what steps Mr Hunt would take to ensure UK nursing was effectively represented at the World Health Assembly and other key international policy gatherings.

At the RCN’s annual congress last week, members voted unanimously to campaign for a “strong, permanent and expert” nursing voice at the “heart of the Department of Health”.

It followed a debate in which union members, including RCN president Cecila Amin, criticised the planned cuts.

Edward Freshwater, a nurse from the RCN’s mental health forum, said: “It has become clear our government intends to sideline the views of nurses with the closure of the policy unit.”

Royal College of Nursing

RCN Congress 2016

Janet Davies at RCN Congress 2016

In the wake of the debate, RCN chief executive and general secretary Janet Davies told delegates that she had subsequently written to the health secretary about the plans. Nursing Times understands that she is yet to receive a reply.

However, the DH has said it is “absolutely committed to ensuring the voice of nursing is heard loud and clear in all of our policy-making”.

Changes made through the “DH 2020” programme “are being done transparently and following extensive engagement with staff”, said a DH spokeswoman.


Readers' comments (4)

  • michael stone

    Sarah Wollaston has got a lot to keep up with at the moment - I was reading a few days ago, that she has said (in a tweet, I think the story said) she will be asking the 'brexiteers' exactly when and how that £350m per-week promised to the NHS on the side of its battle-bus will be forthcoming.

    The NHS is shedding staff rapidly at the moment - I think the chances of keeping 'embedded nurses' inside the DH is slim. HOWEVER - whatever 'mechanism' for feedback to/within DH from BOTH medicine and nursing, SHOULD BE THE SAME. So if there is a doctor 'inside the DH representing medicine, then there should be nurse inside the DH representing nursing'.

    I am not confident that will happen - but the staffing situation inside the DH is 'very tight' now. I've just successfully 'negotiated' with the DH for something written by one of their people, to be published online (it is now on the SCIE website). This took 2 or 3 months, and the basic reason for the delay was that the person who wrote the item in question [and who told me it would be going online] left the DH within a week or two of writing it. His 'role' was then moved to another chap at the DH who also left within about a month, so my 'has this Summary Note been published online yet ?' then reached a third DH person, who had no understanding at all 'of the back story' (and, I feel sure, was also very busy).

    DH staff are not, I think, 'sitting around drinking coffee and reading the sports pages' - I strongly suspect that they are increasingly 'being run off their feet', in common with many front-line NHS clinicians.

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  • £350m per-week is the price of membership of the single market which Britain wants to join with the EU

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  • Michael Stone

    Please be aware these spiteful commentators are not representative of all nurses. I find your posts interstesting

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  • michael stone

    ANONYMOUS 8 JULY, 2016 7:46 AM

    Thank you, whoever you are. I have a reasonably thick skin - an insult without any logic to it, will not bother me very much.

    I got an e-mail from one of my contacts recently, and I used a redacted version of it yesterday in an e-mail asking about the new DH promise to promote a National Conversation about Dying and Death. The redacted (to prevent identification) of that e-mail was:

    ‘Dear Mike,

    I just wanted to write to you as ‘me’ rather than in a way that might be seen as representing the XXXXX … I’m very glad that the thrust of your thinking is around improving practice for the future: we can deplore poor practice in the past, and, though unable to change what happened, it’s good to use this knowledge to improve the experience of people in the future.

    I would suspect, and this is only my personal opinion, that many of your correspondents see the sense and value in your suggestions, as do I, but may be inhibited by their public persona and hence sometimes reply stiffly or without passion. … With very best wishes for your continued energy and the logical approach you bring to identifying areas for improvement’

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