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Secretary of State for Health and Social Care hears concerns of nursing staff

RCN members met Victoria Atkins to share challenges facing the profession, including low pay, staff shortages, patient safety, and lack of support for overseas staff and nursing students.

Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Victoria Atkins at London HQ on 10 April 2024

At RCN headquarters today (10 April) Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Victoria Atkins met with RCN members to hear their views on the current challenges facing the nursing profession.

This was the latest in a series of political summits hosted by the RCN, with members meeting Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting, and Green Party Deputy Leader Zack Polanski last year.

These events have ensured that political decision-makers hear directly from members, informing what we ask the political parties to do for the nursing profession, and laying the groundwork for the RCN’s general election campaigning.

Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Victoria Atkins speak to RCN members at London HQ on 10 April 2024

The summit brought together RCN members from a cross-section of RCN forums and committees, including frontline nursing staff, nursing students, and RCN Prince of Wales nursing cadets. Together, they represented a range of clinical areas, spanning the NHS, independent sector, education and research.

They discussed the biggest challenges facing nursing staff right now and put questions to the Secretary of State. Members raised issues including: pay and conditions; the urgent need to attract and retain nursing staff; the need for safe staffing; diversity in nursing leadership; making recruitment of overseas nurses more ethical; and conditions for nursing students.

RCN Deputy President Tracey Budding opened the event, telling attendees that: “2024 is set to be a big year not just for our politicians, but our nursing profession too.

“We need commitment and action in areas around pay, terms and conditions, safe staffing, ethical recruitment, staff wellbeing and much more.”

She urged Victoria Atkins to, “ensure our nurses remain at the heart of government action – just as they are the beating heart of our health and care service.”

RCN member holds microphone and asks question to Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Victoria Atkinsvat London HQ on 10 April 2024

RCN members had the chance to ask Victoria Atkins questions about issues they’d like to see action on. These included:

  • Whether the government has plans to waive tuition fees for nursing students.
  • What steps the government will take to address disparity in pay and conditions between NHS nursing staff and those working in community settings.
  • How the government can ensure the voice of nursing is valued as much as other medical professionals.
  • What the government will do to ensure nursing staff recruited from overseas are not exploited.

Members in the room urged the Secretary of State to empathise with nursing staff currently doing their best to provide care in difficult, often unsafe, conditions. Atkins was asked what it would take for her to switch careers to nursing, with her responding that it takes a special type of person to do the job.

Rachel Hollis, Chair of the RCN’s Professional Nursing Committee, closed the event by thanking the Secretary of State for attending, and members for their thoughtful contributions. She added: “It does take remarkable people to work in nursing, but it is a profession that at the moment isn’t given the value it deserves. We hope to see outcomes from the questions asked today.”