The newly appointed prime minister Liz Truss has been criticised for dismissing concerns from MPs about nurses using foodbanks.
Ms Truss accused the opposition of “talking down” the NHS in the House of Commons yesterday, when faced with questions about how she would deliver for the health service.
“Nursing will be dismayed by her dismissive response to the reality they face”
During Prime Minister’s Questions, Labour MP Rachel Hopkins said the Conservative Party was “driving our NHS into the ground”, and warned of “record waiting lists, people dying in ambulances outside A&E and nurses using foodbanks”.
In response, Ms Truss said the the Labour MP was “talking down our national health service”.
She cited the role the health service had in “tackling Covid”, delivering the vaccination rollout and getting the country “back on its feet”.
“We do face challenges now with the backlog following Covid, and that is why the new health secretary is going to work to address those challenges,” she added.
A recent survey of 2,500 nurses and health workers, carried out by the Cavell Nurses’ Trust, found a concerning 14% were using food banks to feed themselves and their family.
Responding to Ms Truss’s remarks, Royal College of Nursing general secretary and chief executive Pat Cullen, said: “To suggest that the incredible financial hardship nursing is facing – having to use food banks to make ends meet – is talking down the NHS is missing the point entirely.
“Nursing will be dismayed by her dismissive response to the reality they face. They are struggling – at home and work – like never before.”
Ms Truss appointed Thérèse Coffey as the new health and social care secretary and deputy prime minister this week.
Following her appointment, Ms Coffey announced that patients were her “top priority”, adding that her other priorities were ‘ABCD’ – ambulances, backlogs, care, doctors and dentists.
Nurse leaders subsequently expressed concern at Ms Coffey’s omission of nursing and the workforce crisis.
Ms Cullen said: “The prime minister says her new health secretary is going to take immediate action to tackle the key issues bedevilling the NHS – for nursing, the combined impact of the workforce and cost-of-living crises is top of the list.
“There are 47,000 unfilled nurse posts in England’s NHS alone – Ms Coffey says she has an ABCD plan for the NHS, but should start at the other end of the alphabet with W for workforce.”
Ms Cullen highlighted that in just over a week the RCN will be posting strike ballot papers to 300,000 of its members across the UK, in response to the government’s below-inflation pay awards.
She said until the new prime minister “puts forward a fair and adequate proposal”, she will continue to ask nurses to take strike action.