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‘Health secretary should be accountable to parliament for short staffing in the NHS’

RCN general secretary tells MPs NHS Long Term Plan can’t be achieved with current numbers

RCN general secretary tells MPs NHS Long Term Plan can’t be achieved with current numbers


Dame Donna Kinnair giving evidence to the Commons committee.
Picture: Parliament TV

The secretary of state for health and social care must be held accountable to parliament for safe staffing, RCN general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair told MPs.

Professor Kinnair told members of the Commons health and social care committee decisions made by secretaries of state meant the NHS was ‘years behind’ having the number of nurses it needed.

She was among a range of health leaders giving evidence to the committee on legislative proposals for the NHS Long Term Plan, the government's ten-year strategy for the NHS in England.

‘Lack of political accountability has put us back years’

‘Successive secretaries of state have taken decisions which mean we cannot deliver the long-term plan,’ Professor Kinnair told MPs on Tuesday.

‘The lack of accountability on staffing has put us back years, so there needs to be an explicit accountability for the workforce with the secretary of state.’

‘We cannot go on thinking we can have the same number of nurses and just move them around and feel we can deliver a safe, quality NHS’

Professor Kinnair, who was confirmed as RCN general secretary last month, argued that current 40,000 nursing shortage in England meant the long term plan’s ambitions were impossible to meet.

‘We cannot go on thinking we can have the same number of nurses and just move them around and feel we can deliver a safe, quality NHS,’ she said.

‘We are talking about accountability to parliament for the workforce of our biggest treasure, the NHS.’

Legal mandates for staffing levels

The RCN wants safe staffing, whatever the setting, enshrined in law everywhere in the UK. Some settings in Wales are already covered by law but the RCN wants this extended. In Scotland, it supports the legislation currently going through parliament, but neither England nor Northern Ireland have a law on staffing levels. 

The committee is also looking at proposals by NHS England and NHS Improvement to replace current NHS procurement arrangements in the NHS with a ‘best value’ test.

However, the RCN raised concerns about the meaning of ‘best value’. In a written submission, the RCN told the MPs it wanted further assurance ‘best value’ would not simply mean cheapest provider, and that it will not have adverse effects on nurses.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said the NHS workforce implementation plan, which is pending, would ‘ensure the NHS has the staff it needs for the future’.


Related material

Health and Social Care Committee: NHS Long-term Plan: legislative proposals inquiry


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