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‘The RCN has opposed student nurse funding changes from the start’

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A united nursing voice and the support of everyone in the nursing world is urgently needed

Royal College of Nursing

This is a crucial time for the nursing profession. Working in the health service prepares you to deal with the unexpected, but even the most experienced among us will be taken aback by the level of change under way, and concerned at the direction some of these changes are taking the profession towards.

The closure of the Nursing Policy Unit at the Department of Health means there is a risk that this direction is not guided by the unique and vital experience and expertise of nurses. This move is quite clearly bad for patients.

In light of this, Nursing Times is right to call for senior voices to stand up for the profession. Because the response to these worrying developments and this uncertain future isn’t to give up. It’s to shout even louder. The RCN has done this for a century as the voice of nursing, and when we’re concerned about the future we take inspiration from this history of articulating the concerns of nursing to those in power.

But not all of the work we do is noticeable. A large part of it involves working to influence the government behind the scenes, in the corridors of Whitehall. This means building and maintaining constructive relationships.

The RCN opposed the government’s proposed changes to student nurse funding from the start, and we set out a very strong, compelling case against the changes. Not only did my colleagues and I repeatedly state in the media that the proposals were an untested gamble, but we also drew on the strength and experience of our members. We received thousands of stories from members telling us that they wouldn’t have entered nursing under the new proposals. And we made those stories heard, which were even mentioned in the House of Commons.

A united nursing voice and the support of everyone in the nursing world is urgently needed

Sadly, the government has decided to press ahead with these proposals despite the opposition. And this is where the other side of our ability to influence comes into play. Though we continue to oppose the changes, some important concessions from the government have been achieved, and now we must work with them to ensure the changes are closely monitored, and any problems are acted on. We owe it to patients and to future nursing students to ensure their interests are protected as much as possible by working with the government.

Again, with the issue of safe staffing we have long been a thorn in the UK government’s side, making it clear time and time again that finance-driven cuts are not acceptable, while also working productively to help improve the situation for patients. Our work with the Welsh government led to the Safe Staffing Act – a major piece of nursing legislation. In Scotland too the RCN is playing an important role in guiding this issue and our work in England continues apace.

Removing the Nursing Policy Unit from the Department of Health is a mistake, and the RCN will continue to say so. But that’s not enough. If the voice of nursing is missing from the Department of Health, it is up to us to shout even louder to make sure it is still heard. This is something we have been doing for a hundred years, and it involves championing the work of our members and speaking out when things are going in the wrong direction, while also being willing to work productively to find solutions.

But we can’t do it all on our own. A united nursing voice and the support of everyone in the nursing world is urgently needed now more than ever. There are a lot of vested interests and competing visions in the health service, and if the voice of nursing is to be heard above these, then nursing leaders and everyone else in nursing need to unite with us and speak as one.

Janet Davies is chief executive and general secretary at the Royal College of Nursing


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