Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has reacted sharply to comments made yesterday in a national newspaper by the leader of the Royal College of Nursing abut cuts to out of hours pay.
RCN chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter said in The Independent that any attempt to cut unsocial hours payments could result in nurses taking industrial action.
“It is ridiculous, jumping the gun”
It represented a “red line” for nurses, said the leader of the RCN, noting the strength of feeling that the profession has aired on the issue in recent months.
The comments from Mr Carter came as prime minister David Cameron delivered a speech repeating a government pledge to make the NHS a truly “seven-day service”.
The move would mean more staff likely to be working at weekends and in the evenings in order to increase access to primary care and improve hospital patient outcomes.
Defending the key government policy, the health secretary claimed the RCN was “really jumping the gun”.
“We haven’t made any proposals whatsoever about changing nurses terms and conditions,” he said in an interview with the BBC.
In a separate interview with Sky News, he described the threat of industrial action as “ridiculous”.
Although it has not published final plans on out of hours pay changes, the government has previously submitted ideas to the NHS Pay Review Body, which is carrying out a review for the Department of Health.
As Nursing Times reported in January, the Department of Health identified six possible options to make out of hours working “affordable” to the review, which is yet to publish its recommendations.
In the BBC interview, Mr Hunt went on to attack the college over its handling of the care failings at the former Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust.
“I actually think they [the RCN] should listen to their members, because its nurses who say that what happened at Mid Staffs when we had those avoidable deaths was a big betrayal of what happened to nursing,” he said.
“The Royal College of Nursing were slow off the mark in terms of spotting what was happening there and I think their members want us to sort this out,” he said.
He reiterated the government’s commitment to creating a seven-day service, adding: “No other country in the world has talked about doing this. We want to be the first, we want the NHS to be best and I think that’s what nurse want as well.”