Attacking the nursing profession over isolated examples of bad practice “is totally unfair”, Labour leader Ed Miliband has told HSJ’s sister title.

Mr Miliband spoke to Nursing Times shortly after his keynote speech to the Royal College of Nursing annual Congress in Harrogate yesterday.

He discussed his views on a range of key nursing issues including where he stood on criticism in the media of care standards and claims that nurses were becoming “too posh to wash” or should not be graduates.

He said: “Having nurses with degrees is a good thing, not a bad thing. And I think somehow making a generalised attack on the nursing profession because of isolated, but deeply distressing, examples of bad practice is totally unfair because the vast majority of nurses do a fantastic job.

“I believe all the nurses here [at RCN Congress] would be appalled as members of the public by some of the bad examples [of care]. But to then somehow besmirch the name of either nurses in general or people who do degrees in particular, it seems to me, is quite wrong.”

Mr Miliband also criticised the government’s restructuring of the NHS for wasting money that could be spent on protecting jobs, describing the widespread cuts currently taking place to nursing posts as an “absolute scandal”.

“The most important thing I’d do is not go ahead with this reorganisation and save billions of pounds and not be making nurses redundant,” he said when asked by Nursing Times what would be the one thing he would do to make things better for the profession.

“It’s an absolute scandal this is happening. And it’s an absolute scandal you’ve got nurses in training who are not going to get jobs.”

Mr Miliband repeated the view expressed in his speech that he supported Agenda for Change, while making no promises to repeal changes made to it by the coalition.

Asked about his views on regional and local pay, he said: “We’re not in favour of that kind of approach. We want a national pay framework.

“We think that’s the right way forward. Of course there can sometimes be variations about high cost areas and so on, but our overall position is for a national pay framework.” 

However, he was less clear when asked to clarify his views on the expansion of these variations around high cost areas. For example, the government has proposed to the NHS Pay Review Body that “London weighting” should be expanded to other affluent areas.

“I’m not going to get into the detail of that. A more general position is the one I’m saying,” he said.

Mr Miliband was also asked whether he currently had a position on high profile nursing issues such as the introduction of minimum nurse to patient ratios and the need to boost the status of the ward sister.

He told Nursing Times that the party would look at some of these areas “as part of a policy review”.