RCN congress 2017: Janet Davies' keynote speech

UK-wide legislation on safe staffing is needed to protect patients and the nursing profession, RCN general secretary Janet Davies says.
Janet Davies RCN congress 2017

UK-wide legislation on safe staffing is needed to protect patients and the nursing profession, RCN general secretary Janet Davies says.

RCN general secretary addresses congress. Picture: ©2017 john houlihan

In a wide-ranging keynote speech at RCN congress which also covered pay, training and the upcoming general election, Ms Davies called for the rest of the UK to follow the example of Wales and enshrine safe staffing in law.

‘We've got the first step in Wales, with legislation for acute settings,’ Ms Davies told delegates.

‘We heard Nicola Sturgeon pledge the same in Scotland, though a year later we're still waiting for her promise to become a reality.

 ‘It's now time for legislation - legislation with real teeth - to guarantee safe and effective staffing in every health setting right across the UK.' 

Safe, quality care

‘We are calling for laws to protect the patients we care for and ensure they get the safe and high quality care they deserve.’

Ms Davies announced the RCN is to conduct a safe staffing survey to get a ‘real picture’ of staffing levels across the UK.

In a half-hour speech, Ms Davies highlighted the positives of the profession, praising nurses who responded to the Westminster terror attack in March.

Ms Davies opened: 'While people ran away, nurses were running towards the victims, out of St Thomas's Hospital towards a deadly threat. 

'Even when things are at their most difficult, nursing staff can always be trusted to put other people ahead of ourselves, and we never lose sight of why we do our jobs and why we are proud to be nurses.’

'Extraordinary work'

She also praised the winners of the RCNi Nurse Awards, including RCN Nurse of the Year Melanie Davies.

'Last week I was lucky enough to meet some truly outstanding nurses at the RCNi Nurse awards,' she said.

‘What made Melanie Davies stand out was her extraordinary work she did with the family of a man with severe learning difficulties who died. Working with them and with their support, she helped make far reaching changes which have transformed the care of other vulnerable patients. Making sure it never happens again.

Patients not politics

On the general election, she called for politicians to give guarantees for the future of the UK’s health and care system.

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron are due to address congress on Monday, but no Conservative Party speaker has been confirmed.

'We've already had promises from some but they mustn't be empty promises.

'Our call to all candidates is simple - put patients not politics first.'

Ms Davies attacked the decision to cut student nursing bursaries in England, and was critical of the SNP, who retained the bursary, for reducing the number of student places available in Scotland.

On the issue of pay, Ms Davies talked of a member who works four jobs to stay afloat, saying: 'As we know the former chancellor [George Osborne], the architect of the austerity policy has himself juggled a number of jobs - but surely not to make sure his children can have their own bedroom?'

Spread the word

Commenting on the congress resolution to launch summer protests and hold a ballot over pay, the general secretary warned a 50% turnout would be needed, under trade union laws, before any industrial action could go ahead.

'So it's important that every one of you - all of you here today - uses our summer of discontent to spread the word and get your friends, your colleagues, everyone involved.'

Towards the end of her address, Ms Davies talked of the lack of nurse involvement in policy decisions and said the RCN were committed to challenging this.

'The arrogance of politicians, sitting in their ivory towers assuming they know better than those who keep the service going every day. It just can't be right.'

She ended by urging nurses to register and vote in the forthcoming general election. 

‘Register to vote - pick up your [RCN] manifesto - ask your candidates to say how they'll protect patient care - get them to sign up to our priorities - make sure the voice of nursing is heard in this election.’