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'Lansley must listen to nurses on the front line'


Don’t take nurses’ politeness as a sign that they are OK with government’s activities and attitude.

That was the message given by the Royal College of Nursing’s chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter to the health secretary Andrew Lansley as he prepared to leave the stage after addressing the RCN Congress last week in Harrogate. True, there was an absence of nurses “kicking off” at the event, especially as he tried to hide the numbers of nurse roles being cut by claiming that clinical roles were on the rise. His recommendation that nurses raise concerns if they felt care was being compromised was met with jeers and, to say the least, a “frosty” reception.

But nurses’ dignified conduct belied how they really feel. They are wincing at the sound of the health secretary clashing the blades together as he readies himself to carve up the NHS, and it’s only good manners that stopped them unleashing a more vitriolic attack.

You only have to have compare Ed Miliband’s speech to congress 24 hours after Mr Lansley’s to judge how they really feel about the health secretary.

While the leader of the opposition refused to make promises over bringing down the retirement age, pensions and Agenda for Change, he spoke with passion, warmth and empathy for the profession, and he listened. And that, it seemed, was enough.

As one RCN delegate remarked, to be in opposition against a Tory government and addressing congress on the subject of health was an “easy gig” for Labour’s leader. Nevertheless he virtually bathed himself in the applause that came his way after he spoke. Frankly, short of him revealing he was working on getting his nursing degree just so he could help out at his local hospital when things “got a bit tight” he couldn’t have gone down better.

And when he demanded clarification at Prime Minister’s Question Time about the loss of nurses’ jobs rather than clinical roles, he proved he was listening. Job done Mr Miliband. Congress was convinced (see our interview with the leader of the opposition on page 5).

But it is Mr Lansley who is in the driving seat now – and he doesn’t seem to be in the same mood to listen to directions.

And in further bad news, the Nursing and Midwifery Council has announced its intention to increase fees from £76 to £120, just a few weeks after most nurses felt the first pinch in their pay packets because of pension contribution increases. Someone really does need to stop promising to listen and actually start doing it because enough is enough – the first cut, it seemed, wasn’t the deepest after all.


Readers' comments (5)

  • I cant believe that the NMC are intending to increase our registration to £120,it is day light robbery.It should be put to the vote.They are a poor proffessional body who have done nothing to help the state of nursing.Its a disgrace we are being held to ransom as we cant work unless we pay to be on the register,i wonder how they can justify this.

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  • They need to be reeled in quickly as this is a disastrous move for nurses. I can believe they are doing it because that is the kind of arrogant organisation that they are; the kind of organisation that keeps nurses on the edge for unacceptable periods of time before hearing their fitness to practice cases. That won't improve any with a fee rise; they will just squander it on something else.

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  • A better title for the editorial would be "Why Lansley will never listen to nurses", followed by a piece explaining why Tory ideology and the public service which nursing enshrines is incongruent.

    Contrary to the title of the office which he holds, his job is little or nothing to do with the health of the nation, but is in fact a key battleground to remove the state from people's lives. Tories believe that the state should not intervene - if there is a need and if people choose then let the market decide to meet the need by supplying healthcare and allowing people to make their own choice. This is the path the USA follows and it works brilliantly there - millions of it's citizens 'choose' not to access any healthcare at all because insurance is out of reach. They could of course choose to work harder, or choose to get better qualifications so that they could choose a better job, so that they could then choose to buy healthcare. But instead choose to stay poor and choose to abstain from healthcare. For the vulnerable in society, if this model is realised here by the Tories, I am not convinced that this is a choice they would make.

    However, Lansley would argue that the state cannot provide locally appropriate services to meet the needs of the local population - only the free market is responsive enough to do that. The answer, as he sees it, is to introduce competition, where the costs in the private sector are lower as they do not have the mandatory fixed costs of the NHS, herefore will always win out.

    Nurses and other healthcare professionals bleating about the changes was always anticipated by Lansley and comes as no surprise to him (although I do believe the way we rolled over over the pensions issue and gave him liscence to continue shocked him). Of course, he has to be seen to be listening, if only to play the game in the media, but telling him he must listen when he considers us an irrelevance is laughable.

    In Tom Clancy's book The Hunt for Red October, he makes one of his characters say "I'm a politician. That means I'm a cheat and a liar. And when I'm not kissing babies, I 'm stealing their lollipops". Some would say this gives you insight into behaviour of politicians.

    I'm aware that I am posting as Anon, and that this has upset folk in the past who wanted to respond directly. So, if you wanna debate, call me hopping-mad.

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  • Same old Same old, I've been a Nurse under a Tory Government before (forget coalition that's a joke). Nothing changes with the Torys i'm afraid, they hate the public sector and always have. We knew this was coming, so shame our professional bodies weren't ready.

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  • What most of the general public don't realise is that the tories are slowly but surely privatising the NHS.

    They are driving staff into the ground with all the cuts being made and then using the problems that creates to justify handing hospitals over to private companies to run!
    But let's face it they aren't just doing it to the NHS - all public sector areas are being treated in the same way.
    I would have more respect if the first people to receive pay cuts had been MP's but no they still get their massive salaries and ridiculous expenses

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