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Carter: 'It's never been tougher for nurses'


“It’s never been tougher” for nursing staff but the profession should not be blamed for care failings, according to the head of the Royal College of Nursing.

In a wide ranging speech at the union’s annual conference today, chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter criticised pension reforms, attacks on pay, staffing cuts and the government’s “dysfunctional” reforms.

He said that the college’s research showed that the number of NHS jobs at risk had increased by 50% in the last year, from 56,000 in November to 60,000 at present.

“What we are seeing is the slow but steady erosion of our NHS, and the essential services it provides,” he told delegates at RCN Congress in Harrogate.

“Whether you work in the NHS, or the independent sector….on a ward or in the community, it’s never been tougher,” he said.

Mr Carter also defended the profession against criticism from commentators, including some in the national media, about standards of care over the past couple of years.

He said it was wrong for the “entire nursing profession” to be blamed for care failings, and that in many instances it was nurses themselves that had highlighted problems.

“It’s not that nurses don’t want to provide that standard of care, rather it’s because the system has just made it impossible,” he said.

In particular he highlighted the “obvious” problem with the care of older patients, which he said demonstrated how the system was getting it wrong in some settings but right in others.

“When the nurse to patient ratio on a paediatric ward is often 1:4, why is it regularly 1:9/ 10/ 11, on an older people’s ward?”

Mr Carter also used his speech to call on RCN members to take a stand against cuts to pay, staffing and pensions by voting against local MPs that failed to listen to their concerns.

“There’s only one certainty in politics – elections. We know that there are an average of 1,800 nurses and healthcare assistants in each constituency of the UK. That’s enough to change a result and kick someone out of office.

“Over the course of the next year, I want to see you writing to your MPs in Westminster, and your politicians in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast. I want you to …campaign against the cuts….protect the reputation of nursing and stand firm on the issues that matter,” he told the conference.

Mr Carter also reconfirmed the college’s opposition to attempts to dismantle Agenda for Change pay scale and move to more local pay for nurses, though he did explicitly reject the regional pay changes favoured by the Department of Health. In a submission to a review by the NHS Pay Review Body last month, the DH said it proposed the expansion of “London weighting” style pay zones to more affluent parts of the country.

Mr Carter said: “The Treasury want to look at moving to locally agreed pay.

“Let there be no doubt – the RCN will categorically refuse to accept any move towards local pay.”

He noted, however, that the response by college members to its ballot on pensions earlier this year had been “disappointing”. Only 16% voted, leaving the RCN without a mandate to reject or accept the government’s proposals.

Mr Carter rejected claims that the RCN had opposed the Health and Social Care Bill “too late in the day”, saying he thought the college had been “spot on” in the way it acted.

He also refuted suggestions – including from chief nursing officer for England Dame Christine Beasley – that the college was unable to effectively balance its role as both a union and a professional body.

“There’s a separation between the British Medical Association and the medical royal colleges, and this doesn’t stop a single case of poor care for one moment,” he said.

“The idea patients may be saved if the RCN was either this or that is just nonsense.”


Readers' comments (6)

  • At last an admittance that nurses aren't to blame for trying to do the impossible. Yes it is one qualified nurse to 10 - 15 patients on older patients ward and Yes with the best will in the world you can't do it to the required standard leaving you feeling that you have failed your patients and blaming yourself, then you get managers through audit making critical comments.

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  • Perhaps this is the beginning of a change for the better for nurses. We have had such a hard time for so long now, it's encouraging to see someone might now actually be on our side.

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  • Anonymous | 14-May-2012 10:34 pm

    lets hope you are right and we can move towards positive thinking instead of resisting inevitable change (some of which may be for the better) instead of helplessly clinging to the past. Last time I was bold enough to make a comment similar to yours here in the comments I was 'shouted' down. But maybe the time then wasn't ripe enough!

    Embracing change and moving forwards however needs the mobilisation and efforts of every individual and not just having 'someone on our side'.

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  • “It’s not that nurses don’t want to provide that standard of care, rather it’s because the system has just made it impossible,” he said."

    the number of nurses attending congress prove that.

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  • dont hold your breath
    16% of you voted in the pension reforms

    you should be ashamed of yourself if you did not vote No

    good luck with working on a busy ward etc when your 68!!!!

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  • Imagine a future nurse could be doing a medication round, with a walking frame for support, attached to IV fluids to rehydrate and urinary catheter due to not being able to get to the toilet in time, possibly on beta-blockers and blood pressure medication to reduce the effects caused by years of stress on the cardiovascular system. Oxygen through a nasal cannula, on a portable set-up as required to support their vital tissues needs. No younger members of staff present to help, as the ones left working are all busy elsewhere and the other qualified staff is at the other end of the ward, in her indoor buggy, helping someone back from the toilet. The ward manager, under a mountain of targets and paperwork, is attempting to chop up some red-ribbon with a blunt pair of scissors...

    Then from the corner of your ward, a bell rings, and someone calls out 'please I need the commode...'

    Very poor turnout, the chance to make opinions and feelings heard vanished when 84% of the membership couldnt be bothered. I voted, exercised my democratic rights to moan ;)

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