Nurse leaders have welcomed a promise made in the King’s Speech to push ahead with a tobacco ban but they criticised the lack of measures to “address the crisis in the nursing workforce”.
King Charles attended the state opening of parliament earlier today, where he outlined prime minister Rishi Sunak’s proposed policies and legislation for the coming year.
“The prime minister has failed to deliver legislation to address the crisis in the nursing workforce”
Confirmation that a new Tobacco and Vapes Bill will be introduced was among the announcement’s that were well received by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and other health and care leaders.
His majesty said: “My government will introduce legislation to create a smokefree generation by restricting the sale of tobacco so that children currently aged 14 or younger can never be sold cigarettes, and to restrict the sale and marketing of e-cigarettes to children.”
The legislation will raise the age that people can buy tobacco each year so that children born on or after 1 January 2009 will never be able to be legally sold cigarettes.
It may also include measures to make vapes less appealing to children and to ban the sale of disposal vapes.
The proposals were among those trailed by Mr Sunak in his speech at the Conservative Party conference in October.
However, elsewhere in the King’s Speech, other mentions of health and social care reforms were limited.
In particular, the government has been criticised for failing to use the opportunity to progress promised reforms to the Mental Health Act or to ban LGBT conversion therapy.
Instead, Mr Sunak said his priorities were delivering on the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan and rolling out minimum service levels requirements to restrict nurses’ ability to strike.
In the speech, King Charles said: “Working with NHS England, my government will deliver its plans to cut waiting lists and transform the long-term workforce of the National Health Service.
“This will include delivering on the NHS workforce plan, the first long-term plan to train the doctors and nurses the country needs, and minimum service levels to prevent strikes from undermining patient safety.
“Record levels of investment are expanding and transforming mental health services to ensure more people can access the support they need,” he said.
Responding to the speech, RCN chief nurse Professor Nicola Ranger said: “The prime minister has failed to deliver legislation to address the crisis in the nursing workforce and our NHS and patients will continue to pay the price until at least the next election.”
She said the RCN wanted to see the government follow the lead of other countries in the UK and overseas, and announce safe nurse staffing legislation, noting that England was now an “outlier” in this regard.
More widely, Professor Ranger said: “While it is positive that the government is progressing anti-smoking plans, we are deeply concerned on the lack of progress on reform to the Mental Health Act.
“It is also bitterly disappointing that the ban on sexual orientation and gender identity conversion therapy has been dropped. It’s been five wasted years of hollow promises to ban these abhorrent practices that nursing staff know have no medical basis.”
She warned that it was the view of nursing staff that health and social care services were “close to broken”, and called on the government to use the upcoming autumn statement to take action.
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The government’s policy priorities come ahead of a soon-expected general election.
The next election must take place no later than 28 January 2025, but is anticipated at some point in 2024.
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