Weekly political news round up – 10th June 2016

June 16, 2016 in News by Whitehouse

In the news

The Nuffield Trust has published research warning that problems with workforce morale pose a greater risk to the NHS than financial difficulties – with staff shortages, disputes with Government and bullying contributing to a “toxic mix” in the health service. The report implies that pressures are straining the personal affinity staff feel for the NHS, amounting to a “psychological contract” that could be irrevocably broken if corrective action is not taken.

Health Select Committee holds final evidence session for public health inquiry

The Health Select Committee has held its final evidence session on public health post-2013, taking evidence from figures including: Professor Lisa Bayliss-Pratt, Director of Nursing at Health Education England; Jane Ellison MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Public Health; and Duncan Selbie, Chief Executive of Public Health England. Although the majority of the session focused on issues such as prevention and immunisation, there were several underlying themes of relevance to the PCF.

Of greatest importance was Duncan Selbie’s suggestion that, in an effort to better coordinate work between different government departments to improve public health, he has offered departmental permanent directors the opportunity to appoint a senior public health professional in their department. This professional would have a similar role to previous regional directors of public health who were embedded in the Department of Health and partnered with other Departments; and so taking the Department of Education as an example, would have involvement in coordinating public health efforts within schools.

Earlier in the session, Professor Bayliss-Pratt stated that as part of HEE’s ‘Making Every Contact Count’ strategy, the organisation is “influencing the curriculum of all the professionals to ensure that we get health promotion and health prevention within the undergraduate curriculums.” These efforts were said to include e-learning tools. Professor Bayliss-Pratt also contended that working in public health is a “popular choice”, as people appreciate the opportunity to work in their local communities – contrary to other opinions presented to the Committee, suggesting that public health is having more difficulty with recruiting due to concerns around workforce mobility, career progression, cuts in posts and downgrading of posts.

Concerns raised over health visitor training figures

The Community Practitioners and Health Visitor’s Association (CPHVA), part of the Unite union, has cautioned that places on health visiting courses are going unfilled because public health funding cuts are damaging the profession’s future prospects. Health Education England (HEE) has confirmed that 12% fewer training places than the 1,042 target will be commissioned in 2015/16, which CPHVA says is down to less training places being required by employers.

The CPHVA also believes that local authority funding cuts are further affecting demand, given the transfer of responsibility for commissioning health visitors to councils last year. HEE has defended the decline in commissioned training places, saying it is a result of rapid growth in the number of health visitors between 2011 and 2015. The CPHVA nonetheless highlights several examples of universities that normally offer 10-12 places filling half or none of these.

London Assembly passes motion calling for student nurse bursary cuts to be abandoned

The London Assembly has passed a motion, by 16 votes for and 6 votes against, calling for the Government to end its proposed scrappage of bursaries for student nurses and midwives from September 2017. The policy, which the Assembly argued is driven by a short-term “desire to save money”, would impose a loan and fees system on student nurses rather than the existing bursary system which does not need to be paid back.

The Assembly further appealed to the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, the Assembly’s chair Tony Arbour and the chair of the Health Select Committee, Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, to write to the Health Secretary protesting the changes. It is estimated that there are 10,000 nurse vacancies in London; and the Royal College of Nursing welcomed the Assembly’s attempts to prevent this from worsening. The RCN also called for the Government to work to “identify a fair, effective and sustainable funding system for nursing education”.

NHS takes prominent place in debates over EU referendum

The Shadow Health Secretary Heidi Alexander, who is campaigning for the UK to remain in the EU, has highlighted the contribution that EU nurses make to the NHS and argued that this should be considered when voting in the referendum. Alexander pointed to the 52,000 EU nationals working in the NHS, along with the potential for a £10.5 billion cut to the Department of Health’s budget in the event of Brexit, as evidence of the dangers posed to the NHS by leaving the EU – questioning whether it is a risk the NHS can afford to take “when hospital wards are already dangerously understaffed, when the care system is already in crisis”.

The Shadow Health Secretary’s intervention was accompanied by the chair of the Health Select Committee Dr Sarah Wollaston MP – who had been campaigning for the UK to leave the EU – changing her position to support remaining for the sake of the NHS. Dr Wollaston expressed discomfort with the Leave campaign’s assertion that Brexit would return £350 million a week to the UK which could be given to the NHS, saying the claim “simply isn’t true” and that she couldn’t campaign for the group while it made that claim.