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THE trade union representing nurses across the UK has warned that health bosses have failed to address the ‘burning issue’ of recruitment and retention of staff in the county.

The Royal College of Nursing submitted a formal response to local ‘transformation plans’ drawn up by Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group.

But the RCN warned that people needed to be shown how staffing would be addressed, saying it is the biggest challenge facing the NHS and pointing to an ageing, understaffed nursing workforce.

It comes as the RCN’s 270,000 members nationwide are being asked whether they wish to take strike action over a ‘derisory’ one per cent pay rise.

Senior RCN officer Victoria Couling said: “We believe that any future consultation in phase two [of the transformation plans] needs to address workforce issues and plans in a more cohesive way.

“Without this, the population of Oxfordshire will be expected to respond to consultation after consultation at not only huge expense but also public confidence in NHS managers to develop and deliver safe healthcare.

“We risk severe consultation fatigue and we cannot afford to be fatigued over such an important issue.”

The CCG’s plans aim to save millions of pounds and address the needs of Oxfordshire’s ageing population by re-shaping the local NHS, centralising acute care and shifting more healthcare closer to home.

The two-part consultation has been lambasted as ‘cuts and closures’ by campaigners.

Ms Couling added: “The STP draft plan talked about massive amounts of money needing to be saved and the RCN is concerned and needs reassurance that any plans for the future of healthcare in Oxfordshire is not just a cost-saving exercise to meet the unrealistic targets set by government.”

Yesterday the RCN also launched a member poll on NHS pay after staff were told by the Department of Health they would again receive only a one per cent pay rise in 2017.

Ian McKendrick, communications officer for Oxfordshire Unison Health Branch, said at the start of April the mood had been ‘ugly’ when he spoke to staff.

He added: “It comes down to whether members decide they have had enough.

“Locally employers don’t seem interested in asking for any further money and seem to be acting within their financial constraints. The pressure is building.”

RCN chief executive Janet Davies said: “Patients won’t get the care they deserve from a nursing workforce that is short on numbers and low on morale.”

Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group spokesman Richard McCrann said: “The CCG acknowledges the feedback expressed by the Royal College of Nursing. This will be considered alongside other feedback and comments.”

The one per cent increase is less than half the rate of inflation and there have been reports of nurses in Oxfordshire resorting to food banks due to the cost of living.

A Department of Health spokesman said: “The NHS offers flexible working, training and development opportunities, competitive pay, and an excellent pension scheme.”