WEARSIDE nurses have panned the Health Secretary over NHS cuts and shake-up plans.
Members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) passed a vote of no confidence in Andrew Lansley’s handling of the Coalition Government’s health service reforms at their conference in Liverpool.
There was also anger that Mr Lansley chose not to address the whole conference, instead meeting 65 nurses as part of a “listening exercise” where he apologised for failing to communicate his plans for the NHS properly.
Estephanie Dunn, RCN’s Sunderland-based operational manager for the Northern Region, was at the conference.
She said members were “dedicated professionals” who had “not voted for the motion lightly”.
“Nurses are not saying they don’t want change. Nurses know the economic situation,” she said.
“Nurses understand there is a need to trim the excess fat, but not to the detriment of services to patients.”
The RCN and other trade unions claim the Government’s proposals for NHS reform will undermine services.
Their anger is primarily aimed at scrapping Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) and giving GP boards the power to commission health services – with the freedom to bring in private companies.
The Government claims family doctors are best placed to understand patients’ needs and wants them to decide where money is spent.
But Ms Dunn, a former PCT director of nursing, said it raised serious concerns over quality of care, transparency and how public money would be used.
NHS Trusts across the North East are facing staff reductions, and City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust has already announced a voluntary redundancy programme.
Ms Dunn said a Sunderland RCN member had praised Sunderland PCT for the way it was handling reductions, with management levels taking the hit.
But she said right across the board nurses were being asked to work through breaks and called in on their days off to cope with situations such as posts not being replaced when workers left.
“It’s a very risky situation – a tired nurse is more likely to make mistakes,” she said.
Ms Dunn said health services were facing increased demand at the same time as staffing pressures.
“People aren’t getting healthier, we’ve got an ageing population and quite a lot of ill health,” she said.
District nurse Lee Raynard, 33, who has worked in nursing for 15 years was one of the North East nurses to meet Mr Lansley.
He said the vote of no confidence showed how angry health professionals were with the Government plans, and nurses had presented the Health Secretary with strong of concerns.
He added: “We are obviously deeply concerned about bringing in private healthcare providers. Healthcare is not a business, it’s not about profit, it’s about people – and you can’t treat people like a business.”