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Page last updated at 14:57 GMT, Tuesday, 27 April 2010 15:57 UK

NHS nurses should get more power, says Nick Clegg

Nick Clegg
Mr Clegg says he wants to give nurses more decision-making power

Nurses should be given more say in how the NHS is run, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has said.

He told the Royal College of Nursing conference in Bournemouth he wanted "to change the way power flows in the NHS".

He said it was "only the skills, innovation and ideas" of nurses that could protect the NHS from cuts.

Gordon Brown told the RCN on Monday that nurses were "the soul of the NHS". David Cameron has also said the health service is his top priority.

Health is a devolved issue, which means overall funding to the nations is provided by Westminster, but the devolved administrations have control over how that money is spent.

Mr Clegg said he would give frontline staff control over their ward or unit budgets, and would allow them to "establish not-for-profit social enterprises or [department store] John Lewis-style employee trusts to run services of all kinds within the NHS".

He also pledged to scrap Strategic Health Authorities, and turn Primary Care Trusts into local health boards, with two-thirds of their members directly elected by local people and one-third indirectly elected representatives from local councils.

'Rightly sceptical'

"I am wholly committed, head and heart, to keeping our NHS free when people need it and paid for by us all," he said.

"But you and I also know that's the easy bit to say. It is right to celebrate nursing and the NHS as a whole, but it doesn't deal with the central issue I know worries every one of you.

"The real question that politicians now have to answer is not 'how much do you love the NHS?'

"It's 'how do you protect and improve the NHS at a time like this?'"

You should be telling us how to run it, not the other way around
Nick Clegg

The Lib Dem leader said it was clear that "finding bucket-loads of money for health could only come at the expense of other areas like education", and therefore it was going to be vital for the NHS "to do more with less".

He said nurses were "rightly sceptical" of politicians who were not honest about the tough times ahead.

He said the Lib Dems would "look for efficiency and unnecessary programmes of spending wherever they lie" and any savings made would be diverted into areas under pressure - mental health, cancer treatment and geriatric care.

Mr Clegg told the conference: "You should be telling us how to run it, not the other way around."

Under the Conservatives, any NHS staff earning more than £18,000 would see their pay frozen in 2011. Labour, meanwhile, say they would have a blanket pay rise capped at 1% for everyone.

Mr Clegg said he rejected both of these options and would instead cap chief executives' pay and target small rises - a maximum of £400 per person - at the lowest paid staff.

Personal experiences

On Monday, Mr Brown used his address to the RCN conference to promise that no-one in England would wait more than one week for cancer test results under a future Labour government if they are re-elected.

Mr Cameron chose to begin his election campaigning at a hospital in Birmingham in a bid to demonstrate his commitment to the NHS.

Both men have spoken of their personal experiences of care provided by the NHS - Mr Brown for his daughter Jennifer, who died in 2002, and Mr Cameron for his son Ivan, who died last year.

The SNP and Plaid Cymru both say they want to protect the NHS in their countries from the impact of public spending cuts.

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