Nurses will campaign for a “strong, permanent and expert” nursing voice at the “heart of the Department of Health” in England, after it was revealed the DH’s nurse advisory unit will be scrapped.
At the Royal College of Nursing’s annual congress, members voted unanimously in support of the campaign following a debate in which union members, including its president, stressed the profession “will not be marginalised”.
The government plans will see the unit’s head David Foster retire and the loss of the DH’s professional adviser on mental health, learning disability and dementia care Ben Thomas, as well as nursing and midwifery adviser Jean Christensen and AHPs adviser Alison Raw.
Edward Freshwater, a nurse from the union’s mental health forum, which proposed the emergency motion for debate, said: “It has become clear our government intends to sideline the views of nurses with the closure of the policy unit.
“We might not always agree with their output…but surely it is desirable to have experienced, qualified, independent and dedicated experts within the department to guide ministers and argue when necessary,” he said.
Another member, Heather Henry, said it was a “crucial” time for nursing and noted the chief medical officer and chief social worker, which sit within the DH, had not been removed.
“It seems their roles were protected while nursing is not. Is this right?” she asked congress.
She claimed nursing advice to the DH had already been “diluted” after public health nurse advisor Viv Bennett was moved solely to Public Health England and the chief nursing officer for England Jane Cummings was placed in NHS England, after both previously sat within the department.
“Anyone looking in from the outside would suspect nursing no longer mattered to this government,” she said.
RCN president Cecila Amin added: “Healthcare workers give health and they have to be at the top table to influence policy, influence care delivery and make sure our patients get the best.”
“We will not be marginalised. It’s not on and we will not accept it,” she said.
Following on from the general secretary’s comments on how the RCN would lead if it were in charge of health and care policy and practice across the NHS, we condemn the recent decision ro remove nursing expertise from the Department of Health without consultation and we call on Council to campaign for a strgon permanent, and expert nursing voice at the heart of the Department of Health.