Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg is promising to give nurses a greater say in how the NHS is run if his party is elected at next month's general election.
In a keynote speech to the Royal College of Nursing congress, Mr Clegg (pictured) said he is committed to keeping the NHS free for all to use but said, with cuts in spending on the horizon, frontline staff must direct politicians to where cost savings can be made and where there is no room for manoeuvre.
He said those staff with day-to-day experience of healthcare in the public sector should tell politicians how the NHS can best operate.
Mr Clegg says only the skills and ideas of nurses can protect the NHS from damaging cuts as political parties seek to tackle the UK's budget deficit.
The Lib Dem leader told the congress in Bournemouth: "I am wholly committed, head and heart, to keeping our NHS free when people need it and paid for by us all.
"But you and I also know that's the easy bit to say.
"It is right to celebrate nursing and the NHS as a whole, but it doesn't deal with the central issue I know worries every one of you.
"The real question that politicians now have to answer is not 'how much do you love the NHS?' It's 'how do you protect and improve the NHS at a time like this?'
"We need to change the way power flows in the NHS. You should be telling us how to run it, not the other way around.
"It is only the skills, innovation and ideas of the nursing staff of our health service that can protect it from the cuts you fear."
Copyright © Press Association 2010
What do you think? Have you been impressed by Nick Clegg? Have your say. Your comments: (Terms and conditions apply):
"Not impressed by politicians in general and the superficial knowledge that they have is worrying when the future of our service is in their hands. 'Twas ever thus though and I imagine that we'll soldier on regardless of the election outcome. It would be nice to think that one party might tackle the problems with the areas of the service that need it and stop overwhelming us all with regulations intended to correct the few poor performers" – Name and address withheld
"Does Nick Clegg not know just how many people who trained as nurses already hold management posts in PCTs? 'Get real' – as I recall someone else said to him recently" – Alan Moore, Cheshire