Nurses have passed a vote of no confidence in the health secretary Andrew Lansley over HNS reform - and are refusing to rule out industrial action.
At the Royal College of Nursing's (RCN) annual congress in Liverpool yesterday the vote was comfortably passed, with 96% in favour. Of the 497 nurses voting, just 1% were opposed, with the remaining 3% abstaining.
RCN chief executive & general secretary, Peter Carter (pictured), in his address to the congress earlier this week, refused to rule out strike action. He said: "We all joined this profession for the same reason to care for patients - and we should never condone action that would be detrimental to them. However in all my time in this job… never before have so many of you spoken to me about industrial action.
"It's obvious we need to make one argument very clearly - nurses and healthcare assistants are the front line. We have been told time and again the front line will be protected. Well, now it's time to put words into action.
"Cut back on nursing and you cut back on care."
Other speakers voiced concerns for particular specialties, including mental health, older people, and the care of the homeless and those with long-term conditions. There was also concern over the future of newly qualified nurses and nursing students and how they could be inspired to provide good care with so many cuts being made.
Following the vote Lansley met with 65 nurses as part of a 'listening exercise' to hear their concerns, where he reportedly apologised four times. He refused to address to entire congress.
But the country's biggest union, Unite, has joined the nursing union to pass a vote of no confidence in the secretary of state for health.
Unite says if the Government does not drop its bill to reform the NHS, it too will suffer the same fate of no confidence from health specialists.
Unite national officer for health, Rachael Maskell, said: "Health professionals do not have confidence that Andrew Lansley understands that he is on the verge of destroying our health service. And they do not have confidence that David Cameron or Nick Clegg understand this either. During the select committee they had 100 opportunities to amend this bill and every single one of them they rejected.
"Now they are in political trouble they are trying to sell the idea that they are 'listening'. Well, health professionals are not buying that.
"It is not just this bill, which puts a 60 year service for all on the fast track to privatisation, that is so disturbing. There are also £20 billion of cuts being shoved through now, which are wrecking the service. Clinical staff are losing their jobs, waiting times are growing and A&E departments - the most front line of services - are struggling.
"We are proud to lend our weight to the RCN's vote. It is the duty to now stand up and be counted in defence of our health service because this government is ruining it."
Chris Parr is deputy editor of HR magazine's sister title Independent Nurse and attended yesterday's RCN Congress
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