Prime minister Gordon Brown has received a standing ovation after making an historic address to the RCN’s annual congress.
It was the first time in the college’s 93-year history that a serving prime minister had addressed delegates.
Mr Brown used the occasion to highlight the importance of quality of patient care in the NHS and to thank nurses for their contribution to health care and to society as a whole.
He also pledged to support nurse whistleblowers who feel the need to make concerns known to third parties about quality of patient care.
Additionally, Mr Brown promised to ensure that health spending was not reduced because of the recession. He added that politicians should take note of the standards set by nurses and used the occasion to apologise for the recent scandal over MPs’ expenses.
Mr Brown also made a reference to his daughter, Jennifer Jane, who died when she was two months old. ‘I would like to thank you for saving lives, for relieving pain and giving people comfort…when they are facing that mystery of life, which is death,’ he said.
‘Everybody has their own experience of the NHS. Every single family will have their own experience of their own story, their own history, their own recollection of the work done by the NHS.
‘Some of the things that we have to deal with are so difficult that we are not able to talk about it,’ he said. ‘Sarah and I find it difficult to talk about things that have happened to us.’
Mr Brown then faced a round of questions from the floor.
John Kelshall, from the West Midlands, asked the prime minister how we would protect nurses who blew the whistle on poor quality care.
Mr Brown replied: ‘We have to make it easier for people to say something without fear of their job, without fear or intimidate at their place of work.’
He advised them to ring a confidential advice line advertised on the NHS web site or to contact the regulator, the Care Quality Commission.
‘It is no good brushing things under the table, I want to defend those people who see something is wrong and their right to do something about it.’
Mr Brown went on to reassure nurses that the situation at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, which was heavily criticised by the old healthcare regulator, the Healthcare Commission, was being monitored.
‘The health service is all about quality and standards. Mid Staffordhshire is a grim reminder that we must never take our eye off the values of the NHS,’ he said.