Health secretary defends proposals as Royal College of Nursing and Royal College of Midwives call for bill to be scrapped
The health secretary, Andrew Lansley, has accused trade unions of “wanting to have a go at the government” after organisations representing frontline staff in the NHS moved to oppose the government’s health reforms.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN), which represents 420,000 staff, and the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) called for the government to drop the bill. Both organisations join the doctors’ union, the British Medical Association, which came out against the bill last year.
Writing in the Guardian Peter Carter, the general secretary of the RCN, said nurses’ “concerns have not been listened to and the genuine anxieties we have on behalf of patients in England have been … ignored”.
Leaders of the two bodies, which represent both professional concerns and the employment conditions of their members, warned that the bill, which has been stuck in parliament for a year, would fragment the service and cause massive upheaval at a time when cuts of £20bn were being sought.
Cathy Warwick, chief executive of the RCM, said: “This bill is a massively expensive distraction from the challenges that the NHS faces in trying to improve healthcare at a time of severe spending restraint.”
Both unions had previously said that opposing the bill in its entirety would cause too much upheaval and called for their concerns to be addressed within the current proposals.
Lansley told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the RCN and RCM had been working with the government since before Christmas. “I’m afraid the only thing that has happened in the last few weeks that has led to this situation with the Royal College of Nursing is that the two sides of the Royal College of Nursing have shifted,” he said.
He said the “professional association was working with us” but blamed the trade union aspect of the RCN. “They want to have a go at the government … about pay and pensions. The public know we have to do this. It’s a purely political operation.”
The BMA, the trade union for 130,000 doctors and medical students, has threatened its first industrial action in more than 30 years after rejecting pension reforms. The health secretary said any young doctor starting now would, after 44 years, get a pension of £70,000 a year.
The Department of Health said: “Doctors and consultants who are among the highest earners in the NHS have benefited hugely from the current final salary scheme arrangements compared to other staff groups.”
Lansley said the unions were trying to extract concessions from the government. He denied suggestions that his decision to allow hospitals to raise 49% of income from private patients was an issue, saying that NHS hospitals had no limit at the moment.
“You have to see the political nature of this. The RCN does not like private activity.”