New government must heed healthcare warnings, say nursing leaders

Healthcare organisations stress the need to scrap the pay cap and increase funding for health and social care as the Conservatives seek to form a minority government.

Healthcare organisations stress the need to scrap the pay cap and increase funding for health and social care as the Conservatives seek to form a minority government

RCN general secretary Janet Davies: ‘Healthcare must be a greater priority
for the new government.’ Picture: John Houlihan

The NHS is at risk of further decay unless the new government immediately heeds warnings by healthcare staff, say nursing leaders.

RCN general secretary Janet Davies leads the call for action on the NHS, after last week’s general election result left the Conservatives seeking to form a minority government with expected support from Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

Ms Davies warns that the health service is at risk of plunging into further disrepair if the calls by healthcare staff are ignored amid Brexit negotiations.

As the dust settles following the election result, many ministers, including health secretary Jeremy Hunt, have retained their cabinet posts.

Summer of discontent

Health unions and organisations are calling for the NHS to be made a priority, demanding that Brexit must not get in the way, and for the voices of nurses and other health professionals be heard at a time of uncertainty.

Pledging that the RCN’s planned ‘summer of discontent’ protests will go ahead unless the 1% pay cap is scrapped, Ms Davies says: ‘Health and care services must be a greater priority for this government than they were for the last.’

In addition to the issue of pay, she says greater funding is needed for health and care services, and the government must keep election pledges on mental health and the right to remain in the UK for nurses and care staff from the European Economic Area (EEA).

There are currently 37,000 nurses from the EEA on the nursing register and they face an uncertain future, with serious implications for the already understaffed NHS.

Ms Davies says the government has ‘more than Brexit to resolve in the months and years to come’ and warns that the prime minister ‘must not become consumed by those negotiations to the detriment of patients’.

She adds: ‘In the time it takes to negotiate Britain’s exit, the NHS will fall further into disrepair unless the government begins to listen.’

Safe staffing

Safe staffing must also be addressed, she says: The RCN wants guaranteed safe and effective staffing levels in each country in the UK.

Ms Davies stresses that the pay cap is doing nothing to help fill the 40,000 nurse vacancies in England, describing it as damaging to patient care standards and to nurses’ family life.

‘This summer, the government has one last chance to scrap the cap.’

The Queen’s Nursing Institute (QNI) has joined calls for the new government to listen to the profession.

QNI chief executive Crystal Oldman says: ‘The election result will inevitably cast uncertainty on the direction of change for the NHS and for the nursing profession.

‘The Conservatives were hoping for a strong mandate that would push their policies – including those for health and social care – full steam ahead over the next parliament.

‘We expect the lack of a clear mandate to lead to renewed debate about the direction of nursing and healthcare in coming years.

‘We think it is important that all stakeholder voices, including those of nurses, patients, carers and families, are heard in this process.’

NHS a priority

The British Medical Association (BMA) was among the organisations calling for the NHS to be made a greater priority by the new government, urging politicians of all parties to work together to achieve this.

BMA council chair Mark Porter says: ‘With Brexit negotiations starting in a matter of days, securing the future of EU workers in the NHS is vitally important to protect NHS services and end uncertainty for thousands of NHS staff.

'So too is protecting the future of patient care in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland following Brexit, by ensuring that a “soft” border is maintained.’

University and College Union general secretary Sally Hunt says the rights of students and lecturers from the EEA who work in higher education institutes need to be protected.

‘We believe an important first step is to now guarantee the rights of EU citizens currently in the UK, including thousands of university and college staff and students who contribute so much to our economy and society,’ she says.

Social care was a key battle ground in the election. The Independent Care Group, which represents care providers in York and North Yorkshire, says clarity is urgently needed on how the government will help the 1.2 million people currently living without the care they need.

Action now

Chair Mike Padgham says: ‘Nothing has changed overnight, there are still 1.2 million people going without care and the crisis in the sector remains. We have to have a clear strategy on social care and we have to have it now.’

The Patients Association charity has also expressed serious concerns, calling for action now to avert more chaos in health and social care, starting with increased funding.

In a policy paper, the association says: ‘This crisis will not hold off while Westminster politics sorts itself out into a more workable shape or adapts to the new political landscape – it will come whether our politicians are ready for it or not.’

The Conservatives and the DUP: where do they stand on health?

  • The DUP has been responsible for health and social care in Northern Ireland for the past five years.
  • Its plans include employing 1,500 more nurses and midwives as well as 200 more consultants by the end of the next term of the Northern Ireland assembly.
  • The DUP also wants to increase the number of nurses and midwives in training and practice, and to retain nursing bursaries in Northern Ireland.
  • The Conservatives have pledged an additional 10,000 mental health professionals by 2020. It is unknown what the staff mix will be.
  • There are also potential changes to the regulation of nurses under the Conservative manifesto commitments.

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