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News archive - January 2012

RCN declares outright opposition to reform bill

THE ROYAL College of Nursing (RCN) has expressed its outright opposition to the Health and Social Care Bill, arguing that serious concerns expressed by members have not been addressed during the parliamentary process, listening exercise or political engagement.

The RCN, which had not previously opposed the Bill as a whole, has taken the decision at this point arguing that the proposals will not deliver on the principles originally set out, and that recent announcements, such as the rise in the cap on private patients being treated in NHS hospitals, make the bill in its entirety a serious threat to the NHS.

“Opposing this Bill is not a decision we have taken lightly,” said RCN chief executive Dr Peter Carter. “We have worked hard on behalf of all our members to influence the decisions that have been taken as the Bill has gone through parliament. However, it is now clear that these ‘reforms’ are forging ahead on the ground without the concerns of nurses and other clinicians being heeded.”

The RCN has sought a range of assurances and amendments to the Bill but has now reached the conclusion that the reforms as they stand could have the opposite effect from that which was intended. The reforms appear to be pressing ahead locally in tandem with huge cuts to enable the NHS in England to save £20 billion by 2014.

“Withdrawing the Bill would create confusion and turmoil, however, on the ground, we believe that the turmoil of proceeding with these reforms is now greater than the turmoil of stopping them,” added Dr Carter. “The sheer scale of member concerns, which have been building over recent weeks, has led us to conclude that the consequences of the Bill may be entirely different from the principles which were originally set out.”

The RCN says cuts of 48,000 NHS posts are being made in England alone and that patient care is being put in jeopardy. With this in mind, it proposed an amendment to the Bill which would guarantee safe staffing levels, but the Government chose not to take this proposal forward.

Dr Carter concluded: “Most recently, the announcement that the cap for private income for NHS hospitals would be 49 per cent has left members with real fears that the needs of the market could come ahead of the needs of patients. While we are not opposed to the principle of competition in the NHS, recent developments have shown that the balance between competition and quality has become skewed.”

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said the move was not about the Bill and was driven by dissatisfaction over pensions. “The two sides of the Royal College of Nursing have shifted,” he said in a BBC interview. “There used to be a professional association that was working with us on professional issues, and will carry on doing that, but now the trade union aspect of the Royal College of Nursing has come to the fore.”

“They want to have a go at the Government - and I completely understand it - they want to have a go about things like pay and pensions.”

Mr Lansley said that nurses and midwives had made it “very clear” through the NHS Future Forum that they support the principles of the Bill, which are about reducing the “superstructure of bureaucracy in the NHS.”

Andy Burnham, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, said it was hard to see how the Government could carry on with the Health Bill after the stance taken by both the RCN and the Royal College of Midwives. “A reorganisation on this scale needs a professional consensus for it to succeed. A year since the Bill was introduced it is abundantly clear that the Government’s plans have failed to build that. We agree with the RCN’s assessment that the risks of proceeding with these plans are greater than the risks of dropping the Bill.”

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