Nurses will be “right at the heart” of delivering reformed services under the Liberal Democrats, party leader Nick Clegg has promised.
Speaking to an excitable audience at the Royal College of Nursing’s Congress, Mr Clegg said nurses were the people “the NHS will rely on more and more in future years”.
You should be showing us how to run [the NHS] not the other way round
Outlining the £3.6bn a year efficiency savings that would be made in areas such as reducing preoperative bed days, he said: “I can’t make these things change, only you can, so tell us how.
“You should be showing us how to run [the NHS] not the other way round.”
He said his policies would give more power to staff, patients and the public, for example by replacing primary care trusts with elected health boards, made up of two thirds directly elected members and one third local councillors.
Employee empowerment was a “fundamental old fashioned liberal principle”, he said, highlighting the party’s support for employee owned organisations such as Central Surrey Health and John Lewis.
He said the Lib Dems would “allow the NHS to breathe…without constantly being second guessed by other people”.
Every nurse earning less than £40,000 a year would be better off under the Lib Dems compared with Labour or the Conservatives, he said.
In addition, existing NHS pensions built up after years of service in the health service would be safeguarded.
He said “We believe we can and must protect services in the NHS but we can only do so if we face up to the realities of the situation in which we find ourselves.”
Money would be also saved by scrapping strategic health authorities and reducing administration costs.
Mr Clegg was repeatedly cheered and clapped throughout his speech and at one point had to ask the audience to let him finish his sentence. He received a standing ovation, as did prime minister Gordon Brown yesterday.
Responding to the speech, RCN chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter said he was happy Mr Clegg answered questions from the audience but that more policy details were needed.
He said: “I would’ve liked to have some more detail about what standards are to be taken out.”
Dismantling PCTs would cost money in the short term, he added.