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READERS’ BLOG

Nurses could determine the next government, but who deserves our vote?

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Many people question the value of their vote in the upcoming election. What’s the point? Will it make any difference?

There are currently 194 such marginal seats in Britain that require a swing of 5% for the incumbent party to lose, of which 82 are Conservative, 79 Labour, 27 Lib Dem. In some cases just a few hundred people are needed to vote for one party to influence the seat either way.

Given that there are hundreds of nurses working in every district general hospital and thousands in each constituency, simply organising a collective ‘nursing vote’ would mean they could determine which candidate is elected. Spread that out across the country and the result is simple: nurses would determine the next government.

“In some cases just a few hundred people are needed to vote for one party to influence the seat either way”

This is, perhaps, a scary thought, that if nurses organised themselves sufficiently, they could determine the next government and the direction of the country for five years. It’s also a bit of a puzzle that none of the main nurses’ organisations have ever taken it upon themselves to promote this.

Being able to exert influence is one thing, but who deserves our vote?

The recent track record of the three main parties on health is uninspiring. New Labour distanced itself considerably from the Party that gave us the NHS back in 1948, legislating for purely ideological reasons the requirement for the private sector to provide some NHS services and introducing Foundation Trusts, a mechanism not just to give Trusts more autonomy and ‘freedom’ but break the government’s relationship with service provision and, thus, political responsibility – the “it’s nothing to do with us” model of health care.

“The Conservatives and Lib Dems both went into the last election promising no reorganisation of the NHS”

The Conservatives and Lib Dems both went into the last election promising no reorganisation of the NHS. Within months, Andrew Lansley launched the biggest change the NHS had seen since 1948, opposed by everyone including doctors, health economists, trade unions and every political party – except their Coalition partners. Lib Dem support saw the NHS Bill pass into legislation, with the service undergoing top to bottom change at the same time as £20 billion of ‘savings’ had to be made.

They also agreed with the Tories that up to 49% of NHS services could be provided by the private sector. We’ve all witnessed the subsequent chaos and unprecedented pressure on services.

All three parties have to take responsibility for the disaster of Mid Staffs.

New Labour initiated the policies and culture that sowed the seeds for the tragic events to unfold but those were only expanded upon by the Coalition. In the aftermath, the health secretary and other ministers comprehensively scapegoated nurses, avoiding any responsibility themselves.

“No party seems to have fully learned the lessons of Mid Staffs”

The Francis Report described in horrific detail what had happened but didn’t address the policy or political reasons for it.

No party seems to have fully learned the lessons of Mid Staffs or be aware that there are any number of NHS Trusts that could topple over the brink towards a similar crisis. An ability to recognise the fundamental cultural change and approach to how our services are managed and organised seems beyond them, while the more obvious issue of funding is subjected to all kinds of claims.

This is not to suggest “a plague on all your houses” or that they’re all as bad as one another. There’s also the question of the nationalist parties in the devolved countries. There are any number of ways that nurses can think about how their vote will have the most influence.

“There are any number of ways that nurses can think about how their vote will have the most influence”

The NHS is a litmus test for other policies that affect nurses and their communities in any number of ways.

Talk about cutting £12 billion from the welfare budget might roll off politicians’ tongues like oysters and champagne and sounds attractive if you buy into the austerity argument.

But what would that mean for the millions of vulnerable, sick, elderly and poor, who rely on nurses and the NHS, whose lives will be damaged by losing essential benefits and services?

What will be done for the five million waiting to be housed while five million council flats have been sold and not replaced? What will be the consequence of wages continuing to fall, in real terms, by the greatest degree in more than a century as millions struggle with temporary jobs and zero hours contracts?

“Whose lives will be damaged by losing essential benefits and services?”

There are ‘local’ issues, about the future of local services, and nurses’ pay – treated with absolute disdain by the Coalition - inevitably comes into the equation.

But at the core of this argument is the issue of what sort of country we want: one that aims to provide for all its people, and raise the money to do that, or one that places its trust in the private sector. Our public sector has already been shrunk to an unprecedented degree and will be at 1930s levels if the Tories are elected and carry out their economic policy. And we have to remember how we got into such a financial mess.

“The banks continue to stagger from one scandal to the next with impunity”

The banking system was only saved by a £1trillion intervention from government - using our money – yet the banks continue to stagger from one scandal to the next with impunity.

Which party will finally address this?

There are strong arguments that our system is broken, that change can only come through local activism and a new approach to politics. Whatever the merits of this, the simple fact is that the nursing vote can change the course of history.

Chris Hart is senior lecturer in mental health at the faculty of health, social care and education at Kingston University and St George’s, University of London

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