RCN congress

Peter Carter reveals that RCN could have 'done more' to secure fair pay deal

In an emotional last speech as RCN general secretary, Peter Carter told thousands of nurses at congress in Bournemouth that the college could have 'done more' to secure a fair pay deal for nurses in England for 2015/16, but only 16% of members took part in its ballot on whether to accept the 1% deal.

 John Houlihan John Houlihan

At the time, Dr Carter said the offer, which 60% of those who took part in the ballot voted for, fell 'far short' of what nurses deserved.

In his conference address today, he expressed heartfelt disappointment for not securing a better pay deal for nurses in the last round of pay negotiations with the government. 'We didn't make enough impact,’ he said. ‘When we balloted members on the pay offer in England, only 16% responded. That's a lot of members keeping quiet and not saying how they feel.’

Dr Carter received a standing ovation after thanking nurses for their hard work and dedication to the nursing profession and for the ‘warmth and encouragement’ they have shown him during his eight-year tenure as chief executive.

His words about nurses’ vehement opposition to having their unsocial hours pay scrapped to deliver on the government’s plans for a seven-day NHS were met with resounding applause and cheers from the crowd.

He said nurses are not opposed to a seven-day service, but added: ‘I say to people: “Who do you think keeps this great health care service going 24 hours a day, 365 days a year? It's nurses, healthcare assistants and our colleagues in other disciplines."

‘Of course we want a service as safe at 9am on a Sunday as it is at 9am on a Tuesday... nursing staff are part of the solution to seven-day care, but you will not get it by cutting unsocial hours allowances to fund it.

‘You will get it by recruiting the right number of staff and paying them properly. By supporting, rather than criticising them. 

'You will get it by investing in band 5 and 6 nurses now, so they are ready to take up those senior expert roles that are so crucial to the delivery of patient care seven days a week.’

Embarking on his ninth and final speech, he said: ‘I am standing before you with a mixture of sadness and pride.

‘I'm sad that this is the last time I will speak to you as your chief executive and general secretary, but also very proud as I look back over the past few years.’

Dr Carter, who announced his resignation in February, urged politicians to focus on ‘the recruitment crisis gripping our health services’ more than anything else.

‘There's a simple reason why the agency nursing bill is sky high and in danger of bankrupting the health service,’ he said.  ‘It's because there aren't enough nurses in the NHS.’

He stated that this is not because of a shortage of people wanting to go into nursing, but ‘because people are getting ground down, or simply cannot afford to stay in the job’. 

Cuts to nursing posts and downbanding of jobs will ‘take years to repair’, he added.

Dr Carter, who started his NHS career by training as a psychiatric nurse, wished his successor – RCN director of nursing and service delivery Janet Davies – well and urged nurses to speak up for themselves because they will have a more powerful voice if united.

‘If each of you here got five of your friends and colleagues to speak up, think how strong we would be then,’ he said. ‘Think how difficult that would be to ignore.

‘Think how much more worried the government would be about taking aim at your pay and allowances.’