Royal College of Nursing general secretary Dr Peter Carter yesterday condemned ‘billions of pounds’ of NHS cuts, with thousands of nursing jobs being axed, warning nurses are ‘talking of industrial action’.
In his keynote address to the RCN Annual Congress in Liverpool, Dr Carter pledged: ‘I’m up for the fight to save jobs and services, I know you are too.’
He warned: ‘On top of the job losses, budget cuts and service closures, comes the biggest set of reforms in the 63-year history of the NHS in England.’
Rubbishing health secretary Lansley and Cameron’s ‘pause for listening’ pledge, Carter said: ‘We know that on the ground, where PCTs are shedding staff, senior nurses are leaving the service and GPs are forming pathfinder consortia – nothing is being paused.’
The RCN leader stressed: ‘When you introduce a “market-based” approach to organisations like the NHS, you often see a “race to the bottom”, where providers scramble to offer the cheapest service, leading to the cutting of corners and the fragmentation of services.
‘This isn’t in the interest of the patient, it isn’t in the interest of the nurse, and it isn’t in the interest of the NHS.’
He warned that ‘the Bill could well turn out to be the biggest disaster in the history of our public services’.
Carter said that ‘what really angers me’ is ‘when people use the phrase “public sector” like it’s a bad thing.’
He told Congress: ‘Your pension isn’t gold-plated, it’s measly; your pay isn’t inflated, it’s frozen and your job isn’t easy, it’s one of the hardest jobs in the United Kingdom.
‘Then friends, there’s your pensions . . . let’s just reflect on what’s being asked of you: pay more, work longer, get less – what kind of deal is that?
‘The government should listen to us: the NHS pension scheme currently has an annual surplus of £2 billion, they do not need this fight at this time.’
He went to say: ‘Today, we exposed that across just 21 trusts nearly 10,000 posts are set to go the majority are clinical posts and 46 per cent are nursing jobs – that’s almost half.
‘This, despite the pledge that the government would “cut the deficit, not the NHS” and that frontline jobs would be protected. Our data is a damning indictment on those promises.’
He added that nurses in the private sector were losing their jobs too, as ‘many stopped paying for private healthcare, they just couldn’t afford it’.
He said while nurses are facing job cuts and pay cuts ‘bankers in the City are still pocketing bonuses worth the same as the salaries of three, four or five nurses, and some of them walk away with millions.’
He warned the coalition: ‘If they think nursing staff will sit quietly whilst the rights you depend on are taken away, they are very wrong indeed.
‘We will stand up, we will fight and we will be heard.’
He said nurses marched on London ‘to prove just how passionately you care about patient care’ and, while ‘we should never condone action that would be detrimental’ to patients, ‘in all my time in this job, never before have so many of you spoken to me about industrial action.’
He concluded by pledging: ‘We will continue to fight for you and everything you deserve.’