Anger at NHS reforms and funding cuts drove a nurse to take up politics and stand in next month’s European elections, she has told Nursing Times.
Kathryn Anderson, a registered nurse for 35 years, is standing as a National Health Action Party candidate for London.
“I got involved in this just because I am so angry about what’s happening”
She has been involved with the party since it was launched at the end of 2012 by doctors and other healthcare workers “to defend the NHS and its values”.
High profile members include Dr Richard Taylor, who famously won a seat in the Commons as independent MP for Wyre Forest on a ticket to oppose plans to downgrade Kidderminster Hospital.
In an interview with this magazine, Ms Anderson said: “I got involved in this just because I am so angry about what’s happening.”
She claimed the government was “systematically cutting funding to the NHS”, when the health service was the “last place funding should be cut”.
However, she told Nursing Times she never expected to become a political candidate. “If someone had told me two years ago I’d be doing this, I’d have laughed,” she said. “I’m not a politician, I’m a nurse – and will always be a nurse.”
She explained a key factor in her decision to put herself forward as a prospective MEP was the “power” of the social media website Twitter, where she read about the day-to-day difficulties faced by nurses.
“You get a lot of really sad accounts of what people go through every single day at work,” she said. “To me the whole focus of the NHS should always be what happens at the bedside with patient care, but it feels like things are going backwards.”
Ms Anderson claimed she was well-placed to observe changes in the NHS, having spent a number of years in roles outside nursing, including as an inspector for the Healthcare Commission – a forerunner of the Care Quality Commission. She returned to frontline care in June last year as a lead nurse in pain management at a large, unnamed North London hospital.
She said it was important for the NHS to “have a strong voice” in the European Parliament because of the European Union’s powerful influence over UK policy, which could include regulations on staffing levels and nurse to patient ratios in the future.
“It is possible that this sort of thing may come out of the EU and we may need to abide by those regulations and if we don’t have a say in that, then we have missed the boat,” she said.
“The effect it could have if the NHS is not exempt is really quite frightening”
While she was keen to raise awareness of general issues facing the NHS, she said the main thrust of her party’s European election campaign was to ensure the health service was exempt from a transatlantic trade deal between the EU and the United States.
“The agreement on the table would enable any US company to buy-up any part of any public service in the UK that the government wants to sell, so it’s very much our focus to have the NHS exempt from that agreement,” she told Nursing Times. “The effect it could have if the NHS is not exempt is really quite frightening.”
She said most people she spoke to were “completely unaware” of the deal – known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
However, Ms Anderson said the public’s response to the party out on the campaign trail had been “really good because people know the NHS and what it means”. She hoped it would inspire more nurses to get actively involved in politics.
“Generally nurses aren’t really interested in politics because they’re much more concerned about what’s happening with their patients,” she said. “This party has been set up by healthcare professionals – so hopefully it has made nurses see they can get involved in politics and try and make a difference to what is happening.”
Other nurses involved in frontline politics in recent years include former health ministers Anne Milton, Conservative MP for Guildford since 2005, and Ann Keen, Labour MP for Brentford and Isleworth from 1997 to 2010. Another former nurse, Nadine Dorries, Conservative MP for Mid Bedfordshire, was a member of the health select committee from 2010-11.
Responding to Ms Anderson’s claims, a Department of Health spokeswoman: “In difficult circumstances we have been able to protect the NHS budget in this parliament to help meet the needs of our ageing population.
“The NHS is performing well and there are 5,100 more nurses on our wards as well as 7,500 more doctors in the NHS since 2010,” she said.
“The 70% private company contracts figure is highly selective and misleading. The percentage is based on a tiny sample of contracts. The reality is that private sector providers carry out around six per cent of NHS work.”
Ms Anderson was due to attend a rally being held by the party in Borough, in South London, on Sunday, while the Royal College of Nursing was holding its own hustings event on Tuesday.
The RCN has drawn up a manifesto, calling on election candidates to back policies to support nursing staff and ensure the best quality care. Priorities include championing “safe and transparent levels of staffing in safe and healthy workplaces” and ensuring an “appropriately educated, regulated and developed EU nursing workforce”.
The elections will be held on 22 May. The results will be decided under a system called proportional representation in which the public votes for a party, not an individual.
The more votes a party receives, the more of its candidates will be elected up to a maximum of three to 10, depending on the region.