Health unions say Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt (pictured) has missed an opportunity to boost patient care in his response to the Francis Report

Tim Lezard

Jeremy HuntHealth unions say Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt (pictured) has missed an opportunity to boost patient care in his response to the Francis Report into the deaths at Mid Staffordshire hospitals.

They say boosting the numbers of nurses on wards and halting £20bn cuts to the NHS should be the government’s priorities for the health service.

UNISON said a recent survey by the union highlighted the “worrying” scale of staffing problems in hospitals across the country.

It found 76% of nurses said they could not deliver safe and dignified care because there were not enough staff with the right skills on their ward.

The union fears NHS reforms coming into effect on 1 April will cause far more chaos and damage as resources are shifted into dealing with this.

Christina McAnea, UNISON head of health, said: “It is only right that the lessons of Mid Staff are learned, for all the patients who died and for their relatives.

“Nurses and other healthcare staff are crying out for safe staffing levels and for wards to have the right skills mix.

“Patients are suffering because this is not happening – the government has to start listening to health workers who have repeatedly raised these concerns.

“Instead of giving nurses their backing, the government is constantly running them down. It must be recognised that day in day out the NHS and its staff deliver excellent care in hospitals across the country.”

Sceptics reject Coalition claims that making student nurses work as healthcare assistants will boost standards. Instead, they argue, students should spend more of their training working on wards and in clinical settings.

Unions are calling for full registration of healthcare assistants, not just minimum standards of training.

Unite head of health Rachael Maskell said: “Jeremy Hunt has presented no evidence as to how putting nurses in training – just one profession in the NHS – into the healthcare assistant role will change the culture in the NHS.

“Healthcare assistants need to be recognised as a profession in their own right and regulated accordingly.

“There are issues of training, supervision and resources that need to be addressed if student nurses are going to spend more time on the frontline.

“He has also ignored the central thrust of the Francis report to enable patients and staff to whistleblow, without repercussions, and to guarantee that their concerns will be investigated and appropriate change enforced.“

Unite has called for all NHS institutions to have an independent ‘patient safety officer’, so that staff and patients can raise concerns without reprisal. It has also argued for the creation of a national intelligence unit to co-ordinate information about problematic trusts.

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Tim Lezard

Campaigning journalist, editor of @Union_NewsUK, NUJ exec member; lover of cricket, football, cycling, theatre and dodgy punk bands

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