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Save the NHS from 'tit for tat' politics

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Save the NHS from 'tit for tat' politics Stop using the NHS as a political football

Last year's RCN Congress hosted the government's first Health and Social Care Bill 'listening' exercise. It didn't go well: health secretary Andrew Lansley drew criticism for sneaking in by 'the back door' to address a select group of 50 nurses, rather than giving the traditional keynote speech to all.

This year, with the Health and Social Care Act heavily amended, but signed and sealed, Mr Lansley braved the full congress audience, even taking questions from delegates.

While he didn't endure the slow hand-clap experienced in 2006 by Labour health secretary Patricia Hewitt, Mr Lansley received a thorough grilling from delegates, facing anger over pension changes and NHS reforms. He was branded 'a liar' over claims that numbers of frontline health staff had increased, while his reminder that nurses have a responsibility to flag up any concerns they have about staffing levels was greeted by mocking laughter.

Poised to listen to nurses' concerns (and to pick up the easy applause promised to any leader of the opposition at a time of unpopular NHS reorganisation) was Labour's Ed Miliband, who announced an NHSCheck service, to enable whistle-blowing on the NHS reorganisation.

Despite admitting that 'in government, Labour reorganised too much' and accusing the coalition of carrying on with its NHS reforms out of 'stubbornness and ideology', Mr Miliband pledged: 'If we were in government tomorrow we would scrap the re-organisation'.

However welcome this may sound, it has echoes of London's mayoral elections, during which Labour's Ken Livingston promised to dispense with Conservative candidate Boris Johnson's new fleet of Routemaster buses in retaliation for Mr Johnson consigning bendy-buses to the scrapheap.

Like this, it smacks of 'tit for tat' and suggests the NHS remains a political football, distracting all of us from the real health challenges faced.

Sarah Wild, editor, Independent Nurse

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