Nurses have accused Andrew Lansley of not having “the guts” to face the Royal College of Nursing annual congress, while also tabling a vote of no confidence in his management of the NHS reforms.
Instead of addressing the full conference, the health secretary is due to meet with a select group of 50 RCN members tomorrow, as part of the government’s “listening exercise” to hear concerns about its planned reforms in the Health and Social Care Bill.
But before he arrives at Liverpool’s arena and convention centre, nurses will be voting on a motion of “no confidence” in the health secretary’s management of the reforms. The move was provoked by the keynote speech given on Tuesday by his public health minister Anne Milton.
The motion, to be debated at 9.30am on Wednesday, reads: “In the light of Anne Milton’s congress address, that the RCN congress has no confidence in Andrew Lansley’s management of this coalition government’s NHS reforms.”
Even before the motion was tabled, Mr Lansley was facing a difficult visit. It was initially claimed early on Friday that he would not be attending the conference at all. The Department of Health confirmed later in the day that he would be attending but not giving a traditional keynote speech.
It will be the first time in eight years that the congress has not had a keynote address from either the prime minister or a secretary of state, and the planned listening exercise drew angry criticism today from the congress floor.
Julian Newell, a member of the RCN’s Emergency Care Association, said: “I feel it’s a shame that Mr Lansley doesn’t have the guts to come up and face congress as a whole tomorrow.
“I’m not sure it’s the right thing to say we’ll have a selected group of people to come and meet with him. I would rather us say, if he can’t face congress as a whole, then we don’t want to meet with him.”
Tom Bolger, vice chair of the RCN’s Suffolk branch, said: “Mr Lansley’s refusal to join us in the main hall should not count in his mind as him having listened to the nurses. Listen to us in our congress, not in some closet somewhere else.”
When public health minister Ms Milton gave a speech at the Liverpool conference today, she seemed unaware that Mr Lansley’s office had said he did not want to address the congress as a whole.
When journalists put Mr Newell’s criticisms to her, she said: “Andrew Lansley’s coming and I’m sure he’s got the guts to talk to all of them. I’m sure he’d be very happy to talk to all of them. I’m sure it’s just fitting it all into conference.”
But RCN chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter, who was also present, corrected her. He said: “Andrew’s office have said, what he would prefer is to come and speak to a smaller group, not the whole of congress – possibly up to 50 in a room, to try to have more of a dialogue rather than make a speech.”
He added: “There is widespread discontent as members feel, if he’s here, he can talk to the whole of congress.”
Ms Milton then suggested that a keynote address was “not an ideal format if you want to actually listen to people”, and that speaking to a smaller group would give the health secretary an opportunity to “get into some of the detail”.
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