The leader of the Royal College of Nursing has warned of possible strike action over plans to dilute out of hours pay, as David Cameron re-iterates his commitment to creating a “truly seven-day NHS”.
In his first major speech since the election, the prime minister will say that by ensuring patients have access to free healthcare “whenever” and “wherever” they need it, the values of the NHS will be protected.
The “seven-day” service will include better access to GPs in the evenings and weekends, as well as improved access in hospitals.
To achieve this, he will say nurses and doctors must take a more flexible approach to work patterns.
Prior to the election, the government put forward proposals to reduce unsocial hours payments to help fund the “seven-day service”.
The Department of Health claimed around £1.8bn per year was spent on unsocial hours payments to non-medical NHS staff, and that the system created a “potential barrier” to providing affordable care at the weekends and in evenings.
However, the speech accompanies a newspaper interview, published today, in which RCN chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter issued a “strong warning” to the government that any attempt to cut unsocial hours payments would result in nurses taking industrial action.
In the interview with the Independent, he said: “I would particularly give a really strong warning to the secretary of state - any attacks on unsocial hours, weekend working payments, would be strongly resisted.”
“While we don’t want industrial action, I do feel that for nurses that would be a red line,” he added.
At Unison’s annual healthcare conference last month, members agreed to launch a campaign against cuts to unsocial hours payments, while warning they would ballot for strike action if the plans went ahead.
In his speech today, Mr Cameron will also re-state his commitment to the Conservatives’ pre-election pledge to increase investment in the NHS by an extra £8bn a year by 2020.
The £8bn figure is based on NHS England’s estimation that the health service will require an additional £30bn per year by 2020. It requires the NHS to deliver £22bn annual savings by 2020, alongside the £8bn investment.
Speaking at a GP centre today, Mr Cameron will say: “There is nothing that embodies the spirit of one nation coming together – nothing that working people depend on more – than the NHS. Our commitment is to free healthcare for everyone – wherever you are and whenever you need it.
“So I believe that together – by sticking to the plan – we can become the first country in the world to deliver a truly seven-day NHS.”
“I would particularly give a really strong warning to the secretary of state - any attacks on unsocial hours, weekend working payments, would be strongly resisted”
In response to the prime minister’s speech today, an RCN spokesman added: “The Royal College of Nursing supports moves to ensure that any patient care is if the same standard at 9am on a Sunday morning as 9am on a Tuesday morning.
“To make this a reality, the health service needs sufficient resources to be able to provide enough staff when they are needed,” he said. “This includes all nursing, diagnostic, imaging, medical and support services.”
“We look forward to working with the government to identify what is needed and ensure that the NHS is safely staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he said.