Health secretary hints at pay rise for nurses in visit to Norfolk
Copyright: Archant 2018
The health secretary said he was hopeful nurses would soon receive better pay while he was on a visit to Norfolk yesterday.
Jeremy Hunt visited the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH), in King’s Lynn, the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH), and the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT).
And this newspaper put a question to him from Joan Pons Laplana, a nurse and clinical project manager at James Paget Hospital, in Gorleston.
Mr Laplana said: “NHS trusts are struggling to retain staff, for the fist time in NHS history there are more nurses leaving the profession than joining. Pay conditions is one of the big factors. Mr Hunt, would you give the NHS workers a pay rise above inflation this year?”
And Mr Hunt said he hoped he would soon be able to bring good news for nurses countrywide.
He said: “We did have a policy of a 1pc rise we’ve said we don’t think that would be appropriate to carry on with that. We’re having discussions with the Royal College of Nursing about whether we can do a more generous settlement in return for some long-term improvements to the nurse contract.
“And those discussions seem to be going very well at the moment. So I don’t know what the outcome of those is but I hope that it will be good news for all nurses in the country.”
Mr Hunt also addressed the intense pressure Norfolk’s NHS came under over Christmas a New Year,
All three of the county’s hospitals were completely full at points and ambulances queued for hours outside stretched A&E departments.
Mr Hunt said: “The first thing I would say is I want to thank NHS staff, they are doing an absolutely incredible job in Norfolk. And the long-term way we will break the cycle of always having nightmare-ish winters is by expanding our capacity expanding the number of doctors and nurses we employ - but that takes time.
“So we’ve increased the number of training places for doctors and nurses by a quarter which is the biggest expansion in the history of the NHS. But that’s going to take time to feed through and that’s why it is going to be pressured for the next few years.
“Of course in the years ahead we’re going to have to find ways to spend more on the NHS because we have in ten years time we’ll have a million more over 75s.”
At NSFT, which was plunged back into special measures last year, Mr Hunt met with frontline staff.
He said: “We want Britain to have the best mental health provision available anywhere and every mental healh trust in the country is at a different stage of the journey. There have been particular challenges at Norfolk and Suffolk which is why they’re in special measures, but I would want to reassure you readers that the reason they’re in special measures is because we want to give them special help to get back on track.
“And it’s also important to recognise this is not a uniform score. There are parts of the work the trust do which are outstanding - they got a good score for the care, the quality of the caring domain that the CQC operates, so there are lots of very, very good things that happen here.
“But we want to give them support to get up to the standards of the best trusts in the country and I really wanted to come and give a message of encouragement to the staff because it’s never about the staff when a trust goes into special measures, it’s about the leadership.
“Everyone joins the NHS because the want to help patients in the most vulnerable moments of their life. It’s about making sure that leadership is in place to help people do what they naturally want to do.”
But Mr Hunt did warn that when things go wrong financially in the health service, other parts of the NHS are hit. Asked about the £10m deficit uncovered at West Norfolk Clinical Commissioning Group he said: “We do monitor [the finances] very carefully and the truth is the funding in the NHS is decided on a per patient basis and it’s very fair, so if someone goes into deficit in one area they end up taking money away from another area that could have used it or taking it from part of the NHS like mental health.
“So it’s very important that everyone keeps to their budgets because it’s not fair on other parts of the country. But what happens when CCGs have financial difficulties is we step in and support them to get things back on track. Everyone’s funding is going up so it’s not in a context of people’s budgets ever being cut but we just need to contain the pace that the budgets go up in a way that’s fair for everyone.”
‘Blood on his hands’
Protestors from the Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk braved the cold outside Hellesdon Hospital for Jeremy Hunt’s visit.
Referring to the visits being deemed private, Emma Corlett, a Labour county councillor for Town Close, said: “I think it’s outrageous the secretary of state for health has to sneak around in secret hiding from service users.”
She said Mr Hunt was “ultimately responsible” for the situation at NSFT as the trust was not given enough money. She added: “He’s got blood on his hands.”
Sheila Preston, whose son Leo died while under the care of the mental health trust, said Mr Hunt had previously run away from her when she tried to speak to him in London. She said: “There are no service users here to meet Jeremy Hunt. So I’m here to represent all the families of the people who have died in the past few years and I will keep on until I’m satisfied it’s a safe service.”
During his visit to NSFT Mr Hunt met with a cross-section of frontline staff including nurses, doctors, therapists, allied health professionals, and staff from non-clinical roles, as well as with chairman Gary Page, chief executive Julie Cave and other executive directors. He was joined by professor Tim Kendall, NHS England’s national clinical director for mental health.
Mrs Cave said: “Patient safety is central to the trust and we were delighted to welcome the secretary of state and Professor Kendall and for them to hear directly from staff about the progress we are making to continue to improve our services.
“We were pleased to have the opportunity to speak to him about our services, to discuss the challenges we are all facing in mental health. It was also a good opportunity for him to see firsthand how dedicated our staff are in rising to meet that challenge for the benefit of our service users.
“It was very encouraging to hear Mr Hunt’s positive comments about our work and to hear him express his thanks to staff for their hard work and dedication.”
Earlier in the day Mr hunt met staff at NNUH. Hospital chief executive Mark Davies said: “We were pleased that Jeremy Hunt was able to visit the hospital, to meet a cross-section of our staff and talk about some of the improvements that are being made, particularly in relation to quality and safety in patient care.
“The secretary of state heard that in addition to being one of the most efficient trusts in the NHS, NNUH also has very low rates of infection and a mortality rate below the average. This was also an opportunity to show Mr Hunt some of the innovations that our clinical teams have implemented such as the older people’s emergency department and a nationally-funded project to improve safety in child birth.”