Well done to the Royal College of Nursing (news, page 7, 9 December) for bringing into the open what has been implicitly understood by nurses for many years and under various governments: there is an unwritten policy to limit or close NHS beds for the persistently ill, older patient, thereby deliberately forcing them to rely on the private sector or ill equipped relatives.

Care in the community always pointed in this direction, and too many health authorities have confirmed the strategy .

As ever , it is the least able to speak up for themselves who get the least choice. In this case, they are also being forced to pay for shortfalls or mismanagement in government budgets, and their lifesavings and property have to be dissolved to shore up the system. It is a pitiful sight in an apparently civilised country with a compassionate, inclusive system of healthcare.

We should not have to restate an obvious article of faith: that no patients (young or old, temporarily or chronically ill) should have to worry about getting free NHS healthcare for as long as they need it.

The RCN's general secretary , Christine Hancock, often makes the point that such NHS crises are not so much about lack of physical beds as about lack of nurses to tend them. One of the solutions to this grotesque and arguably illegal treatment of our old and infirm must be to make good the inadequate numbers of nurses in our hospitals.

The best of the private nursing agencies have an important role to play in plugging the gap, and we work hard to provide the NHS with top-quality temporary staff.

But the key question remains: when will the government go out of its way to attract, reward and retain enough nurses to make proper nursing possible?

Robert Murgatroyd Director of marketing Thornbury Nursing Services