making nurses work as Health Care Assistants for a year before they can start to train as a nurse is ‘a stupid idea’, Royal College of Nursing president Andrea Spyropoulos declared yesterday.
As the RCN nurses’ union opened its annual conference in Liverpool it came under attack from the Coalition government.
Prime Minister Cameron and Health Secretary Hunt led the onslaught, stating that they intend to force nurses to work as health care assistants before they can qualify as nurses.
RCN President Spyropoulos responded that it is ‘a really stupid idea that will not benefit patients’.
Health Secretary Hunt weighed in with: ‘We are going to have a tough new inspection regime, modelled on the Ofsted inspection regime in schools, a chief inspector of hospitals who will go round and give a rigorous independent inspection . . .
‘Nurses in modern NHS hospitals are managing healthcare assistants, so actually to have some experience of being a healthcare assistant for a short period of time will help them understand better the people they are managing . . .’
RCN chief executive and General Secretary Peter Carter said: ‘It’s time the government stopped bashing the NHS.’
Accusing ministers of repeatedly criticising NHS professionals, Carter continued: ‘The government must stop talking down NHS staff and concentrate on the bigger issues.
‘We need to regulate and train healthcare assistants, we need staffing levels that are enforceable in law and we need to learn the real lessons from Mid Staffordshire.
‘We need leadership in the NHS that fosters a caring culture, one that gets the best out of people.
‘This type of leadership comes from the top, and government must start to focus on what matters, giving staff the tools to do the job.
‘Only then will nurses and doctors be able to deliver the gold standard of care that patients deserve.’
Rebutting government claims that it is implementing the recommendations of the Francis report, Carter said: ‘We know that some of the most important recommendations from the Francis inquiry are being ignored, potentially leaving in place the systemic failures which allowed such a tragedy to happen in the first place.
‘Student nurses in their training spend over 50% of their time in clinical areas.
‘There seems to be a view out there that somehow they spend all of their time in universities. That simply isn’t the case.’
Launching the shocking results of an RCN survey, Dr Carter stated: ‘Understaffing is the single biggest challenge facing the NHS today. The introduction of mandatory safe staffing levels, enshrined in law, is now a matter of extreme urgency.
‘Ensuring safe staffing levels across the health service was a key recommendation of the Francis report into failures at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust.’
The vast majority of nursing staff (91 per cent) questioned in the RCN survey said they support the introduction of mandatory safe staffing levels, but most (71 per cent) fear the government will not deliver on the inquiry’s recommendations.
The RCN believes a failure to act could potentially be disastrous, with two-thirds of respondents saying they felt problems of poor care could happen where they work.
Referring to concerns raised about staffing levels in the RCN’s survey, Dr Carter said: ‘They (nursing staff) made it clear that they felt, sometimes on a daily basis, sometimes on a weekly basis, the number of staff that were available on wards and other departments were simply inadequate in order to provide the safe and satisfactory level of care patients need.
‘And it’s a really worrying return and we think the government would be well advised to take this seriously.’