Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Lib Dem leader Tim Farron both appeared at the Royal College of Nursing’s (RCN) Congress 2017 in Liverpool to stake their claim for the nursing vote in 8 June’s general election.
Speaking to a packed hall on 15 May, delegates heard the Labour leader pledge to allow NHS unions to negotiate on pay with independent pay review body decisions being respected.
‘We want nurses to be paid properly,’ he said.
Mr Corbyn endorsed the RCN’s work as a union and professional body and said he understood why the pay poll action had to be taken, as nurses working in the NHS continue to face a real terms pay cut while the country is facing a future with 40,000 fewer nurses.
He said he was determined to reintroduce the student bursary in England and recounted his experience of speaking to a group of student nurses. They told him that the only way they could afford to train without a bursary would be by having a partner to fund them.
He described this situation as ‘utterly short sighted and counterproductive,’ and said that restoring the bursary would protect the future of nursing. Mr Corbyn also promised his government would legislate for legally enforceable safe staffing levels in hospitals and introduce equal status for mental and physical health. He said his government would bring in a Minister for Mental Health.
But when asked about retirement ages for nursing staff, he left Congress waiting, saying all would be revealed in Labour’s manifesto, launching on 16 May.
In his keynote address Mr Farron (above) said the UK has ‘the best health professionals in the world’, but lacked the funding to match. He also thanked delegates for all they do and acknowledged the challenges they face.
He said a Liberal Democrat government would raise £30 billion for the NHS through a 1p rise in income tax, with £6 billion a year over five years going into a ring-fenced health and social care budget.
He also pledged to restore bursaries for nursing and midwifery students and increase public sector pay. Highlighting the 14% real terms pay cut nursing staff have received since 2010, Mr Farron said staff had been badly treated by the Conservative government.
‘If you undervalue nurses, don’t be surprised if they leave the profession. The time to invest in health and care has come and not a moment too soon,’ he said.
Addressing the results of the RCN’s pay-poll, to which more than 50,000 members responded indicating a desire for industrial action, Mr Farron said he understood how staff have been driven to this point.
‘If you spend time with health care professionals you understand how utterly dedicated they are to what they do. It’s not a decision you’ve taken lightly. It’s something you do because you have concern for your patients.’