Secretary of state for health Jeremy Hunt said in his speech last week that he wanted to make the health service “more human-centred and less system-centred”.
On the Department of Health website, the speech is accompanied by a kindly looking member of nursing staff looking after a patient. Judging by the uniform, it’s probably a healthcare assistant rather than a nurse. But nursing staff are the face of a “human” NHS, a caring NHS that Mr Hunt wants to build. Happy, motivated, compassionate nursing staff paint a great poster campaign for the NHS, and it’s unsurprising that this is the image used to flag up the health secretary’s vision for the health service.
“Happy, motivated, compassionate nursing staff paint a great poster campaign for the NHS”
And yet there was little mention of nursing in Mr Hunt’s speech. Reacting to weeks of criticism about the decision to move publication of safe staffing guidance from the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence to NHS England, Mr Hunt announced that Dr Mike Durkin will move from the commissioning body to a newly created regulatory body. He will work with the CNO for England, Jane Cummings, on safe staffing, and the work will be independently reviewed by NICE, the Care Quality Commission and Sir Robert Francis.
Mr Hunt also briefly mentioned Sir Bruce Keogh’s review of the professional codes of conduct, including the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s Code.
But, besides these two references, there was no other direct mention of nursing. Perhaps we should be grateful the profession avoided the limelight for once, because right now it is the doctors who are in Mr Hunt’s line of sight.
He contends that the British Medical Association are roadblocking a seven-day service that Mr Hunt says would make the service safer and save lives. Currently, consultants can opt out of weekend non-emergency work but are still expected to be on call. The BMA has pulled out of talks with the government because it has concerns over workload, but Mr Hunt threatens to enforce a new contract on consultants to make them work at weekends.
“This row will provide something of a blueprint for how Mr Hunt will deal with healthcare staff”
This row will provide something of a blueprint for how Mr Hunt will deal with healthcare staff - and issues such as pay increases and unsocial hours pay - to ensure he can deliver the NHS that his party’s manifesto promised. Early indications are that he will do that aggressively, and won’t let anyone get in his way.
Jenni Middleton, editor
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