Gordon Brown paid a heartfelt tribute to the nursing profession at last week’s Nursing Times Awards.
He was received with all the warmth you would expect for a man whose 2002 budget did more than any single act to preserve the NHS funding dramatic service improvements.
As our awards demonstrate every year, it is nurses who are providing the engine of that transformation.
Nurses have benefited both financially and in career development from the extra cash and their own efforts.
However, there is one area of the NHS where - despite changes in nursing practice that have significantly improved patient care - nurses have not shared fairly in the rewards.
Practice nurses are now carrying out almost as many consultations as the average GP partner, yet their pay packets have seen relatively little of the money that has been poured into primary care as a result of the GP contract.
GPs suggest the divergence in pay has narrowed. This may be the case but the differences will still be stark. The most mealy-mouthed excuse is that GP partners bear the ‘risk’ of running a business and that nurses might be reluctant to carry that alleged burden.
For a start, running a GP practice must be among the lowest risk businesses in the UK, especially in the current economic climate. Second, if nurses do shy away from aspiring to become practice partners, it is likely to be because their employers have done little to support that ambition.
No doubt, nursing unions can champion the cause of practice nurses. However, the biggest drive to address this unfairness must come from the commissioners - the PCTs.
It is their responsibility to build an effective primary care workforce - and practice nurses will be an essential part of that. If they cannot persuade GPs to properly recognise their contribution, they should seriously consider providing support for practice nurses to set up their own units.
It would be interesting to see how the prospect of competition might make GPs think again about the value of their practice nurse colleagues.