Ed Miliband urges nurses as 'defenders of health service' to call Government to account for NHS reforms
Labour leader asks nurses to report problems caused by NHS reformsInitiative comes day after Health Secretary heckled at nursing conference



13:08 GMT, 15 May 2012

Complimentary: Labour leader Ed Miliband, said nurses were the 'bedrock of the NHS' during a speech at the RCN Conference today

Complimentary: Labour leader Ed Miliband was quick to take advantage of frosty relations between Andrew Lansley and the Royal College of Nursing

Labour leader Ed Miliband called on NHS staff and patients today to hold the Government to account for difficulties resulting from its controversial reforms to the health service.

In a speech to the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) conference in Harrogate, Mr Miliband launched a Labour initiative called NHS Check which will allow people to report online on problems faced by hospitals, clinics and family doctors arising from Health Secretary Andrew Lansley's shake-up.

Seeking to capitalise on the coalition's fraught relations with NHS workers, Mr Miliband hailed nurses as the 'the defenders of the health service' against market-oriented reforms which he said would divert resources from the front line and lead to disruption, fragmentation and longer waits for treatment.

After Mr Lansley was heckled and jeered by the RCN conference yesterday, Mr Miliband accused ministers of refusing to listen to legitimate concerns.

Despite the reservations expressed by nurses to the NHS shake-up, the Government had “ploughed on regardless”.

Mr Miliband urged NHS health and wellbeing boards – which will have strategic oversight of local commissioning – to resist new charges for treatment and ensure patients come before profits.

'The Government have been acting like they are the masters, not the servants, of the NHS. They are not the masters. Not this government. Not any government,' he said.

'It's owned by the people of Britain. Our health service is owned by patients, professionals and the people. And their voice – your voice – deserves to be heard.

Under pressure: Mr Lansley faced a frosty reception at the RCN conference yesterday, although he wasn't booed

Under pressure: Mr Lansley faced a frosty reception at the RCN conference yesterday, although he wasn't booed

'I can't promise that we will always
agree about everything. But what I will never do is what this Government
did: dismiss you as just a 'vested interest'. You were not a vested
interest. You were the defenders of the health service.'

Mr Miliband described nurses as the 'backbone of the NHS' and said he wants to “forge a partnership” with the RCN to address the long-term challenges facing the NHS.

Mr Miliband's speech comes after Mr Lansley received a rough reception from the RCN yesterday.

He was laughed at by members of the audience after saying nurses should tell superiors if staffing levels were not safe.

Some in the crowd shouted “liar” after the Health Secretary claimed clinical staffing levels had increased on his watch.

Heated exchange: Delegates cheer another delegate question the Health Secretary

Heated exchange: Delegates cheer another delegate questioning the Health Secretary yesterday

David Cameron's official spokesman said the Prime Minister had full confidence in Mr Lansley.

The spokesman said: 'Whenever you are trying to reform a bit of the public sector and make changes, you should expect some opposition to that.

'But we think it is important to reform the NHS. Although we are protecting the NHS budget, an ageing population and increasing costs of treatments mean that we need to reform the health service.

'We want to work with healthcare professionals as we do that.'


Over the past two years the Royal College of Nursing has repeatedly issued dire warnings that thousands of nursing posts are facing the axe.

Ministers have always denied these claims, consistently stating they ‘do not recognise’ the RCN’s figures.

Yesterday the union issued yet another report with figures showing that since March 2010, two months before the Coalition was formed, a total of 3,588 nursing and midwifery posts have gone.

Again, the Government denied these claims and said initially said that there were actually only 450 fewer nursing posts.

They pointed out that the overall number of clinical roles – which include doctors, scientists, radiologists as well as nurses – had increased.

But the NHS’s own figures show that the RCN are right – there were 311,787 nursing posts in March 2010 compared with just 308,199 now.

And yesterday for the first time Health Secretary Andrew Lansley conceded that the NHS had lost ‘about’ 3,500 nurses.

The Government are correct to state that the clinical posts have gone up, though – there are 3,556 more compared with two years ago.

Many of these include scientists, radiologists who carry out x-rays and sonographers who perform ultrasounds, as well as doctors.

While the RCN acknowledge these roles are valuable, they say that trying to save money by cutting nursing posts is ‘unintelligent’ – and will inevitably harm patient care.