Health secretary Andrew Lansley was branded a 'liar' by delegates at last week's RCN 2012 Annual Congress, for claiming the number of frontline staff had increased since the coalition came into power.
Mr Lansley endured around an hour of questioning from nurses angered by the passing of the Health and Social Care Act, in the face of strong opposition from nursing organisations, including the RCN.
Addressing delegates at the event in Harrogate, the health secretary conceded 3,000 nursing posts had been cut since 2010, but argued the reduction in nurses was more than covered by increases in doctors and other clinical staff. This was greeted by widespread laughter from RCN members, with a few shouting 'liar'.
'Across the whole of the NHS we have seen staffing levels reduce. But clinical staffing levels overall have gone up by nearly 4,000,' said Mr Lansley, urging nurses to flag-up any
concerns about staff numbers.
'If any of you have a view that staffing levels are literally not safe for patients I think part of your professional responsibility is to say that. Part of the responsibility of nursing directors and trust boards is to listen to what you are saying.'
RCN research, published at congress, suggests more than 60,000 NHS posts could be slashed, including nursing roles. Some 26,000 jobs have already been lost in the two years to April, the College warned.
Meanwhile, Labour leader Ed Miliband, who received a standing ovation from RCN members, used his address to urge nurses to speak out about the negative impact of the Health and Social Care Act.
Announcing the launch of NHS Check, a website to highlight specific problems caused by the NHS reorgansation, he encouraged nurses to contribute.
'The government have acted like they are the masters, not the servant of the NHS,' he said. 'They are not the masters; not this government; not any government. The British people own the NHS and no government should forget it.'