Weekly political news round up – 16th February 2018

This week, both Houses of Parliament have been in recess and will return to business on Tuesday 20th February. NHS England has launched a campaign to encourage parents to seek advice from pharmacists for their children’s minor illnesses, and the Royal College of Nursing has warned that the Treasury still needs convincing of the need for a “meaningful” pay rise for nurses. The RCN has also called for the Government to encourage EU nurses to stay in the UK after Brexit, while Boris Johnson called for unity on the UK’s vision for Brexit in a speech.

NHS England launches campaign to use pharmacists for minor illnesses

NHS England has launched a new campaign advising parents to visit pharmacists to address their children’s minor illnesses, in order to speed up treatment and reduce pressure on GPs. The Stay Well Pharmacy campaign highlights that 35% of parents with children under five would take the children to a GP if they had a minor illness such as earache or diarrhoea, and 5% would visit A&E. The spending on NHS staff time and treatments for these minor, “self-treatable” conditions is estimated to cost £850 million a year.

Dr Bruce Warner, deputy chief pharmaceutical officer at NHS England, said that pharmacists can “assess symptoms and recommend the best course of treatment or simply provide reassurance”, and “have the right clinical training to ensure people get the help they need” if conditions worsen. The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health welcomed the advice, saying “We all need to emphasise that alternative resources are available to parents and caregivers when they have less serious concerns about the health of their child” – but the Royal College of GPs warned that “in an emergency or situation were genuinely unsure, patients should always seek expert medical assistance.”

Treasury still needs convincing of “meaningful” pay rise for nurses

The Chief Executive of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), Janet Davies, has discussed the RCN’s negotiations with the Treasury on increases to nurses pay, warning that the Treasury still needs convincing of a “meaningful” pay rise for the workforce. While Davies recognised that it is a “big thing” that talks are even taking place, she said “The health team really understand the need for a pay rise, the Treasury doesn’t”, and there is further negotiation for this to be funded with additional funding rather than out of existing NHS budgets. She also highlighted the fact that the ‘Agenda for Change’ pay system, pay rises would have to be considered for other NHS staff as well as nurses.

Davies made the comments at a conference at the University of Salford last week. A government spokesperson said “The government has been clear that it will fund a multi-year pay deal for staff employed under the national Agenda for Change contract — including nurses and midwives – if talks on contract reform are successful.”

RCN says EU nursing staff must be encouraged to stay in UK

The RCN has responded to a report published by the Home Affairs Select Committee on Brexit and immigration, calling for assurances to be made that nurses and carers from the EU will have the right to stay in the UK after Brexit. The Committee’s report expresses concerns around the proposal to extend the current immigration system for nurses, as prioritising visas based on salary levels would preclude many EU nurses from coming to the UK.

Janet Davies of the RCN said, “In some hospitals, one in five NHS workers have EU passports – if there is a Brexit cliff-edge in migration, it will be the NHS going over it.” The RCN further advised the Government to launch a consultation on immigration arrangements after Brexit and the impact on public services.

Boris Johnson calls for unity on Brexit vision

Boris Johnson has made a speech calling for unity on the vision for Brexit, as part of a week of speeches from the Prime Minister, the Brexit Secretary and the International Trade Secretary examining the future relationship the UK want to have with the EU. Johnson’s speech attempted to reconciliate divisions between those who voted to leave and remain in the EU, stating “We must accept that many [Remainers] are actuated by entirely noble sentiments, a real sense of solidarity with our European neighbours and a desire for the UK to succeed.”

Johnson expressed his doubts that membership of the customs union and the single market brings economic benefits, saying that “the economic benefits of membership are nothing like as conspicuous or irrefutable as is sometimes claimed.” Responding to Johnson’s speech, the shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said “Nobody will be fooled or reassured by the foreign secretary’s empty rhetoric.” The pro-EU Labour MP Chuka Umunna also described the speech as “an exercise in hypocrisy”, while the SNP’s Brexit spokesperson Stephen Gethins criticised the Government for still not being able to explain “what leaving the EU will mean.”