UK’s chief nurse warns of ‘unnecessary distress for patients’ as un…

Nurse says she'll strike after government response to union action

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The UK’s chief nurses have expressed concern over the upcoming strike announced by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), a news report has claimed.

According to the report, Dame Ruth May, chief nursing officer for England, has written to Pat Cullen, head of the Royal College of Nursing, to say many nursing leaders feel “let down by the RCN”.

The letter, exclusively accessed by The Times is signed by her counterparts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

In the letter, the health chiefs have requested them to do more to protect patient safety during the walkouts on Thursday and next Tuesday.

The head of the RCN, Pat Cullen, said strikes in England, Wales and Northern Ireland would now go ahead on Thursday, after Steve Barclay refused to discuss pay.

The Government said it would continue to engage on non-pay related issues.

Expressing concern about the impact on patient services, the health chiefs suggest the union’s refusal to fully staff acute hospital wards and A&E units means patients could miss out on lifesaving treatment such as antibiotics, which must be given promptly to prevent death from sepsis and other severe infections.

The chief nurses warned that some cancer patients are already having chemotherapy cancelled on the strike days, despite the RCN claiming it would be exempt.

The chief nurses said local RCN strike committees were defying national union guidance and refusing to guarantee chemotherapy, meaning hospitals were “now preparing to reschedule chemotherapy from 15th and 20th December”.

The country’s four chief nurses write: “Many chief nurses/directors of nursing are, of course, RCN members themselves and some have expressed feelings of having been let down by the RCN.

“We hear from our colleagues that they are concerned by the assumption, implied by the RCN, that night duty staffing on day duty is safe.

“This decision has the potential to significantly impact on the safety of patient care (for example, by impacting delivery of intravenous antibiotics on time, patient observations and medication rounds).”

The RCN has said it will maintain a “life-preserving model of care” when nurses walk out on Thursday, with most services reduced to the same level as Christmas Day or night shifts.

A spokesperson for RCN had told “Concerns for patient safety is also a central part of this dispute and on strike days we run a system called derogation to protect patient care.

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“Urgent and emergency care will always be protected.”

Dame Ruth, who was appointed England’s chief nurse in 2019, also raises concern about disruption to community service and home visits, writing: “It is essential that end of life care and good pain and symptom relief continue during any strike action.

“This would alleviate unnecessary distress for patients, their families and nurses and help to prevent avoidable hospital admissions during this period.”

The chief nurses are also critical of the RCN’s refusal to exempt mental health services, including crisis care for children, from the strikes.

In response, the RCN said it agrees with some of the demands set out in the letter.

It said: “Nurse leaders are working closely with us as part of our commitment to make this strike safe and effective.

“This letter is already out of date as we have met senior clinicians today and agreed key points. The safety of patients is everybody’s top concern.

“The public backs our campaign and knows that patients need a strong nursing workforce but at the moment there are record losses jeopardising safe care.”

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