Belfast Telegraph

Home News UK

Cameron NHS vow 'headline grabbing'

David Cameron's "vision" of a seven-day NHS service has been met with scepticism by health experts along with the threat of industrial action.

Outlining the plans today, the Prime Minister promised to ''transform'' health services and "become the first country in the world to deliver a truly seven-day NHS".

He said it was not about NHS staff working seven days a week, but about "different shift patterns - so that our doctors and nurses are able to give that incredible care whenever it's needed".

Royal College of Nursing (RCN) chief executive Peter Carter warned that nurses would resist any changes to payments they receive for working outside office hours, but the union later released a further statement amid suggestions they would go on strike, clarifying that there is "big difference between industrial action and strike action".

In an interview with the Independent today, Dr Carter said he "would particularly give a really strong warning to the Secretary of State: any attacks on unsocial hours, weekend working payments, would be strongly resisted.

"The membership is quite clear: unsocial hours, weekend working, Christmas Day and bank holidays - they get a very modest higher level of remuneration. Any attack on that and I do fear it would result in industrial action."

An RCN spokesman later said: "There's a big difference between industrial action and strike action. Nurses are never going to do anything to damage patient care and the RCN's own rules would not allow that.

"What we want to do is sit down with the Government to work on how to take this forward in the interests of better patient care."

Nigel Edwards, chief executive of the Nuffield Trust, said a seven-days-a-week service will mean " significant changes" to the way services are run across the country, and could lead to closures or mergers of local services, such as emergency surgery or maternity units.

British Medical Association (BMA) council chairman Dr Mark Porter accused Mr Cameron's speech of being " empty headline-grabbing".

Many pointed out that the £8 billion promised by the Prime Minister is the "bare minimum" needed for the NHS anyway, and will not pay for extra services or improvements.

Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said a seven-day NHS was promised by the Tories in 2010, so the latest announcement should be taken with a "large pinch of salt".

Mr Cameron said patients will also get faster access to new drugs and treatments, while there will be a greater focus on mental health and healthy living.

Speaking at a GP surgery in the Handsworth area of Birmingham in his first major speech since the Tory general election victory, he said he wanted to "put the record straight loud and clear" after a "lot of rubbish" was said about his plans during the campaign.

He said the "accusation" that hurt him the most was when people said the NHS would not be safe in the Tories' hands.

"The founding values of the NHS are my values," he said. "The NHS will always be free for everyone under a Conservative Government."

Asked by a reporter if he could deliver efficiency savings and seven-day working while asking staff to work more unsociable hours, the Prime Minister cited the success of Salford Royal Hospital in Greater Manchester.

Mr Cameron said: "I saw this in operation (in Salford) and they are working increasingly on a seven-day basis.

"The scanners are working at the weekend, the MRIs are working at the weekend ... everything is working at the weekend. And as a result, actually, they've been able to reduce their costs and provide a better service.

"So it is absolutely the right vision for the NHS.

"Will it be easy to achieve? Of course not. Will it require a lot of hard work to put it in place? Yes, it will.

"But it's definitely the right ambition and people shouldn't automatically assume that working something on a seven-day-a-week basis means it's more expensive."

Mr Cameron was also pressed to explain where the extra doctors for seven-day working would be found given existing problems in recruiting GPs.

The Prime Minister said: "There's a five-year plan, there's a five-year funding plan, and there's a strong track record from the last five years. All these things give me the confidence to say this will work."

Earlier, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt acknowledged that seven-day working would involve ''some extra cost which we will have to find''.

''We know that up to 3,000 people lose their lives every year because they don't get the proper clinical cover they need at the weekends,'' he told the BBC.

''The NHS is the first system anywhere in the world that's saying this is a problem, and we want to do something about it.

''People don't necessarily want to have to take time off work to go and see a GP and that's why a seven-day GP service is also a very important part of what the Prime Minister is talking about today.''

Daily News Headlines Newsletter

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox.


From Belfast Telegraph