Royal College of Nursing members have overwelmingly passed a vote of no confidence in health secretary Andrew Lansley’s management of the NHS reforms.
The emergency motion, debated this morning at the RCN’s annual Congress in Liverpool, was passed with a 98.76% majority, and puts renewed pressure on Mr Lansley ahead of his visit to the conference this afternoon.
The secretary of state had already angered many nurses by refusing to address the full conference. Instead he has opted to meet a group of around 60 nurses separately today, as part of the government’s recently announced “listening exercise” on its Health and Social Care Bill.
However, a government keynote speech given by health minister Anne Milton yesterday afternoon added further fuel to the situation.
Ms Milton drew an angry response from conference delegates, after she suggested Agenda for Change pay increments could be frozen locally in return for job security, despite a national deal proposing similar terms already having been rejected by unions.
The motion passed this morning states: “That this meeting of RCN Congress, in the light of Anne Milton’s congress address, has no confidence in Andrew Lansley’s management of his coalition government’s NHS reforms.”
Proposing the motion, Mike Travis, of the greater Liverpool and Knowsley branch, said: “This debate is not about Andrew Lansley – he’s just a person who can be swapped in and out. This debate is about your patients and their access to care… our patients are losing services and funding hand over fist.”
He asked: “do we need these reforms at a time when the British public have great trust and satisfaction with the NHS?”
Mr Travis was followed by a succession of speakers voicing fears that the reforms will damage services and impact on nurses. Bethann Siviter, of the RCN South Birmingham branch, told congress that “if these reforms go ahead, the NHS is dying.”
Billy Drysdale, from Cumbria, said: “I have confidence in the government – that they’re going to make a complete pig’s ear of it.”
Tom Bolger of Suffolk warned of an “implosion” of the NHS, while BJ Waltho, of the RCN South West branch, accused Mr Lansley of lying to the RCN in his address last year. “That’s why I have no confidence…You may describe us as angels but there’s a little devil in all of us,” she said.
However, some urged caution. Jan Kennedy of Norfolk backed the spirit of the motion. But, she warned: “The RCN is in a unique position because of [general secretary Peter Carter’s] skill in being able to engage with the government – if vote no confidence now, we may well lose that right to be at the top table.”
Responding to the debate, Mr Carter said the motion was a “reflection of many members’ passionate and honestly held concerns that the proposed reforms could destabilise the NHS”.
He said it is “vital” that the government engages with the RCN, adding: “Nurses need to have a pivotal role within the new NHS structures, and we call on the government to listen to what our members have been express this week. At the heart of these concerns are the interests of patient care.”
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