Nurses’ lack of visibility in the health white paper will create “real problems”, Royal College of Nursing chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter has predicted.
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Speaking to Nursing Times just before submitting the RCN’s official response to the white paper, Mr Carter said it “underestimates” the contribution of nurses to the NHS.
He said: “The visibility of nurses in this white paper is missing… We acknowledge there’s a whole mixed economy of skills but the nurse contribution is essential.
“We’d predict if we don’t have that level of involvement we will begin to get real problems.”
There appears to be a “lack of understanding” that the proposals will not work without the backing of nurse leaders, Mr Carter added. This was because nursing directors are in a strong position to influence the workforce as a whole and can help to obtain consensus on difficult decisions such as hospital reconfigurations.
The RCN’s response also questions the speed at which the reforms are due to be implemented and the lack of “road testing” of changes such as GP commissioning.
The ambitious pace of the programme is also challenged in Unison’s white paper response, which says it “will produce instability for the NHS which could affect the quality of services and patients’ ability to access them”.
The response highlights Nursing Times’ investigation into practice nurse training, warning that the government’s plans could reduce training opportunities and worsen working conditions.
Proposals to transfer education commissioning to local providers are “deeply worrying”, while the staffing reductions “envisaged in the white paper” could “undermine” the fight against healthcare associated infections, it says.
It also expresses concern at signals the private sector will play a far bigger role in the NHS.
The British Medical Association has also warned about the impact of greater involvement of the private sector in its formal response.
In a letter to health secretary Andrew Lansley, former health secretary Andy Burnham last week emphasised “the fierce criticism that is emerging from professional bodies” regarding the white paper.
The letter said: “Your plans are completely unacceptable to us and if you proceed on the basis you have set out, we will launch a major campaign in every community.
“However, if you are prepared to listen, we will step back from that and engage constructively in the debate over the future of the NHS.”
Unison will set out its case for a judicial review against the white paper in court next Thursday.