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The BBC's Daniel Sandford
"The theme of this years conference is turning talk into action"
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Monday, 3 April, 2000, 13:55 GMT 14:55 UK
Nurses: Six months to save NHS
Christine Hancock
Christine Hancock: "The service is at risk"
Nurse leaders have given the government just six months to save the NHS.

Despite the promise of extra billions in Chancellor Gordon Brown's Budget a fortnight ago, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) annual congress in Bournemouth was told that the NHS was "at risk".

RCN General Secretary Christine Hancock told the conference: "The people who deliver and receive health service have got to feel the difference very soon.

Targets and headline figures are all well and good, but if we see a repeat of this winter's sorry tale of an NHS on its knees, people will lose faith with the NHS

Christine Hancock, general secretary, Royal College of Nursing
"Targets and headline figures are all well and good, but if we see a repeat of this winter's sorry tale of an NHS on its knees, people will lose faith with the NHS.

"And it's not just a winter's tale any more - in some areas, the impact of emergency pressures on patient care is taking its toll throughout the year."

The RCN challenge the government to use the money to improve substantially pay and conditions for nurses.

Ms Hancock praised the government's efforts to recruit nurses, but added: "Once you have got them, you have got to keep them."

She also called for improved training and career development for nurses.

The Budget money, she said, meant the stakes were "even higher" in the health service.

"The service is at risk. It needs saving.

She reminded delegates how Mr Blair had told the electorate that they had "24 hours to save the NHS" on the eve of the last election.

She said: "I think the government has a little longer than 24 hours - but not much. Maybe six months."

Ms Hancock described how nurses were in some cases replacing GPs as the "gatekeepers" of hospital care - through schemes such as the NHS Direct helpline, which is mostly staffed by nurses.

"I am saying invest in nurse leadership because what patients want is an experienced nurse with the authority to make things better."

RCN President Christine Watson, in her congress speech, described the case of a child with meningitis rushed to hospital following advice from NHS Direct. Her mother had tried and failed to make a GP appointment.

"What would have happened without NHS Direct?" she asked.

The speech came as a MORI poll of more than 1,000 nurses revealed that nine out of 10 believed that staffing levels were "critical" to improving care.

Only a third of nruses said that pay was the most pressing issue.

Key changes

After the speech, Ms Hancock outlined the key changes she hoped to see over the next six months.

She said: "We have to see more nurses. Even if we could cut the rate of wastage that would make a significant difference."

She said that the practice of leaving patients to wait on trolleys in A&E would have to "disappear".

And she described mixed sex wards as a "gross misuse" of hospital admissions.

She said that even placing more emphasis on the cleanliness of hospitals would make a huge difference.

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See also:

17 Jan 00 | Health
Nurses welcome pay boost
19 Nov 99 | Health
Nurses' role set to expand
04 Nov 99 | Health
NHS in crisis: Special report
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