Nurses could ‘walk away’ from the NHS in the face of four more years of pay restraint, the new chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing has told HSJ.

  • New RCN chief warns nurses will leave NHS if pay restraint continues
  • Janet Davies says union will be part of Agenda for Change reform talks
  • Greater emphasis will be put on college’s professional work

Janet Davies, who was appointed in June, also said the RCN would “be part of the discussion” on any future reforms to the Agenda for Change pay framework, which covers more than 1 million staff.

A deal with the government earlier this year included agreement from Agenda for Change unions to discuss further reform to pay and terms and conditions, to be implemented from April next year.

Ms Davies said the government’s policy to restrict public sector pay rises to 1 per cent for four more years was “causing huge problems for the way nurses feel they are valued”. She added: “My biggest worry is that nurses are so fed up they are voting with their feet and leaving the profession. We have already seen the rise in nurses working for agencies.”

Ms Davies began her nursing career in Manchester before taking over as chief executive of the former Mersey Regional Ambulance Service Trust. She has been executive director of nursing and service delivery at the RCN for nine years.

Royal College of Nursing

There has been an increase in nurses working for agencies, Janet Davies said

She told HSJ that the college would always be prepared to consider changes to nursing terms and conditions, but admitted the situation was “challenging”.

The government and NHS Employers have suggested they could seek cuts to the rate of unsocial hours payments Agenda for Change staff receive. The payments currently cost the NHS up to £1.8bn a year, according to NHS Employers.

“The big announcement that concerned us all was that the NHS Pay Review Body was asked to look at unsocial hours,” she said. “That led to nurses being incredibly concerned and of course they still are. That was the only official line that we had, but the PRB said unsocial hours pay was not a barrier to seven day care.

“We want to work in partnership with employers to make sure everything is fit for purpose but the discussion isn’t there yet. We will be sat around the table and be part of that discussion.

“There is always a willingness to look at systems and what works well and doesn’t work so well. It wouldn’t be sensible for us to say we wouldn’t be interested in talking.”

Ms Davies said she wanted the RCN to take a “new approach” and be more “inclusive” towards members to build strong relationships and make nurses feel more valued.

She said nursing needed to look to the future and added it was time to “draw a line” under the debate about nursing being a degree educated profession.

Ms Davies said: “For the last goodness knows how many years we have looked at nurses becoming a graduate profession. And now we are – we need to just get on with it and get over ourselves. We have the evidence, if we are true professionals we should be looking at the evidence and what is right for the future.”

Following the Francis report into failings at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust the college was criticised for not doing more to protect staff who raised concerns. Sir Robert Francis recommended the college split its professional and trade union roles.

Ms Davies told HSJ this would not be cost effective for RCN members, but said that under her leadership she hoped to enhance the college’s professional work and spread more of its work to local representatives.

“We are looking at how we strengthen some of that professional work. There is an outdated perception of what trade unionism is. I think it is about partnership working, supporting people in their workplace and supporting patient outcomes.”

On the decision by NHS England to suspend safe staffing work by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, Ms Davies said the issue would continue to be a priority for the RCN: “We are very keen to work with whatever process is put in place, but it must be evidence based. Staffing levels should be based on the safety of patients and outcomes; it shouldn’t just be about what we can afford.”