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Queen's speech criticised for 'scarcely mentioning' nurses or pay cap

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Queen Elizabeth II appeared at Parliament Queen Elizabeth II appeared at Parliament to give Theresa May's speech

Nurses were ‘scarcely mentioned’ in a Queen’s speech which touched on mental health reform, domestic abuse legislation and patient protection but drew criticism from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).

Prime Minister Theresa May has presented plans for what she hopes will be a two-year government as Queen Elizabeth spoke to Parliament on 21 June, hours before the Royal Ascot.

The speech contained a handful of policies mentioned in the Conservative party’s election manifesto but excluded controversial proposals such as grammar school expansion and a vote on fox hunting.

While the biggest questions of funding for the NHS and pay for its staff were not addressed, the Queen spoke about a draft Patient Protection Bill which would improve how the NHS investigates and learns from mistakes by establishing an independent investigation body.

Briefly touching on NHS funding, she said: ‘My ministers will strengthen the economy so that it supports the creation of jobs and generates the tax revenues needed to invest in the National Health Service, schools, and other public services.’

READ MORE: 'Summer of protest action' for nurses as RCN considers balloting over strike action

RCN chief executive Janet Davis criticised Mrs May for dodging the matter of nurses’ pay in the speech, speaking of nurses being ‘driven out’ of their jobs.

She said: ‘Theresa May had an opportunity to show that she had listened to public concern over the future of the NHS. By scarcely mentioning its patients and workforce today, the Government made clear that nothing will change.

‘Nursing staff and others across the NHS hoped to hear a new tone. Theresa May's below-inflation cap on their pay does nothing to help fill the 40,000 vacant nurse jobs in England. It should have been scrapped today.

‘We will look closely at today's announcements on mental health and social care but the rhetoric needs to be matched with cash. These promises would have been easier to deliver if thousands of mental health nurses had been able to stay in their jobs in recent years.’

Speaking more specifically, the speech promised the government would ‘reform mental health legislation and ensure that mental health is prioritised in the National Health Service in England’, following up on Mrs May’s campaign promises to scrap the Mental Health Act and replace it with legislation which would deter unjust detention.

READ MORE: Parties promise major mental health reforms in bid to sway NHS voters

Chief executive of Mind Paul Farmer said: ‘We welcome the government’s proposals to reform mental health legislation. Being detained under the Act is one of the most serious things that can happen to someone in terms of their mental health and the current legislation is outdated and not in line with the principles of modern health care.’

A draft Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill will also be put forward to protect victims, as well as setting up a specialised commissioner to stand up for victims and survivors, raise public awareness and monitor responsible agencies.

The Institute of Health Visiting (iHV) has recently been promoting how health visitors are well-positioned to spot the signs of domestic violence and can intervene by engaging with and supporting victims in their situations.

iHV executive director Cheryll Adams said: ‘These proposals are a positive step towards combatting domestic violence. Giving the term a legal definition will increase awareness of what domestic violence and abuse really are – including the psychological and sexual dimensions it can take on.

‘Not only might that help victims to identify their situation, it may also be a wake-up call to perpetrators who may be granted a chance to stop and think about the true nature of their actions. Next steps for the government would be to legislate support for perpetrators as well.

‘Our focus as health visitors is often the children who may end up caught in the middle of domestic abuse situations between their parents. This can lead to ramifications for their mental health or see the behaviour continue in cycles down generations.

READ MORE: Health visitors can help 'spot the signs' of domestic slavery

‘Any next steps should be made with these children in mind.’

The speech will go to the House of Commons to be voted on by MPs in the coming weeks and may be decisive in Mrs May’s ability to form a government.

What do you think? Leave a comment below or tweet your views to @IndyNurseMag

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It's not only disappointing, it's just not good enough. Where is the sense in making more promises to reform, stated here as requiring the cash to back them up, when previous promises and policies to improve patient choice by shifting from acute to primary care have never been financed? Community nursing services are on their knees, many senior staff are due to retire and the government has been aware of this for years thanks to various reports from concerned bodies. The demographic shift has gone ahead anyway with huge increases in patients with high clinical needs referred to district nursing services without the extra funding or staff needed to cope with the increasing demand. A recent assessment into safe staffing limits into community was stopped before completion so there are no nationally recognised safe limits, risking patient care standards and health and safety for staff. Staff work through lunch breaks and over hours daily to ensure needs are met but their own needs suffer, leading to burnout, sickness and retention issues. Introducing fees for student nurses on top of year on year reductions in places available added to the appalling pay cap giving a year on year real terms pay cut will do nothing to help fill vacancies. The austerity measures were introduced because it was felt that there was too large a gap between public and private sector pay. This is now at risk of swinging the other way, adding to recruitment and retention issues. Public sector posts such as health care professionals require university education and therefore warrant higher pay than private sector jobs which do not have equally high requirements. Why would any student pay thousands of pounds in fees and spend years studying if they can walk into a job with almost equal pay without doing so?
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