Health Secretary Alan Millburn told nurses at the annual conference of the Royal College of Nursing that more money will be available for nurses pay, but it will be tied to improvements. The Royal College argues that nurses are poorly paid compared to police officers and that some of the additional money coming to the health service should be used to close this gap. Throughout the conference, nurses demanded significant pay rises to improve the recruitment and retention of staff. Alan Millburn made it clear that improvements in pay must be ‘a something for something’ arrangement and implicitly rejected the comparability argument.Investment in pay will have to pass the ‘acid test’ of either contributing to expansion in capacity, bringing about increases in productivity or delivering improved performance. Negotiations on the modernisation of nurses pay structure, which will be completed by the end of the year, will have to meet these criteria. The new money will have to deliver shorter waiting times, higher clinical standards and better health so it would be focussed on more staff, beds and buildings.
One area of change will be a shift of the boundary between doctors and nurses. Nurses in future will be trained to prescribe medicines. The range of drugs and medicines nurses can prescribe is also set to be extended.
It is planned to recruit an extra 35,000 nurses for the health service by 2008 and in a move to ease retention problems, improvements in childcare and other working arrangements, such as flexible rostering, have been promised.