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Conservative pledge of 50,000 more nurses includes retaining existing staff

The Conservatives have pledged to deliver 50,000 more nurses into the workforce, but have confirmed this will include stopping some existing staff from leaving the health service.

The Conservatives have pledged to deliver 50,000 more nurses into the workforce, but have confirmed this will include stopping some existing staff from leaving the health service.

At the party’s manifesto launch yesterday, the Tories also promised to bring back a grant for student nurses to cover their living costs, after their Government axed bursaries for tuition and maintenance costs in 2017.

Following confusion over the flagship manifesto pledge of 50,000 extra nurses, it has emerged that this includes 18,500 existing and returning nurses – which the party confirmed would be either retained through measures such as ‘enhancing’ continuing professional development (CPD) training or recruited through return-to-practice schemes.

The figure is further made up by training 14,000 undergraduate and postgraduate nurses, 5,000 apprentices and 12,500 nurses recruited from abroad through an international recruitment drive, all of which is supported by an extra £725 million of funding annually.

The Conservatives said they would expand existing international recruitment efforts and promote a new NHS visa that would offer fast-track entry and reduced visa fees for doctors, nurses and allied health professionals.

Labour’s shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, said the Conservatives’ claim that they would create 50,000 extra nurses showed they were ‘trying to take people for fools’, while Unison’s head of health Sara Gorton described the move as a ‘sham’.

Meanwhile, Richard Murray, chief executive of health think tank The King’s Fund, said that recruiting the extra nurses pledged in the manifesto would be a ‘huge challenge’ and the party’s overseas recruitment measures might ‘still be insufficient’ to attract enough overseas nurses.

The 64-page Conservative manifesto also promised that nursing students would receive an annual maintenance grant of £5,000 to £8,000, with the higher end of funding reserved for regions or disciplines struggling to recruit, such as mental health.

However, the Royal College of Nursing’s chief executive and general secretary, Dame Donna Kinnair, called for additional funding to cover nurses tuition fees.

She said: ‘Boris Johnson has not brought back the bursary – he is pledging to return one element of the package and keep the costly tuition fees in place.’

Before the student nurse bursary was axed in 2017, students received a bursary and paid no fees. In the year the bursary was axed, student nurse numbers dropped by 11%.

The Tory manifesto also promised to ‘improve staff morale with more funding for professional training’.

But Dame Donna said the next government must restore funding for nurses’ ongoing CPD – which has been cut from £205 million in 2015/16 to £84 million in 2019/20 – ‘to ensure that there is a sufficient specialist nursing workforce, and to support retention of nurses in the workforce’.

Other pledges included:

  • 6,000 more doctors and 6,000 more primary care professionals (such as physiotherapists and pharmacists) in general practice
  • A clampdown on health tourism
  • Over 50 million extra general practice appointments a year
  • An increase to the NHS surcharge

Overall, the Conservatives have promised a cash increase of £33.9 billion a year by 2023-24 for the NHS, which Dr Jennifer Dixon, chief executive at the Health Foundation, said amounts to an annual increase ‘below the 3.4% needed just to maintain the current standards of care in the face of rising demand’.

She added that it is ‘far short of the 4% needed to deliver the improvements promised in the long term plan for the NHS, according to our predictions with the Institute for Fiscal Studies’.

The latest vacancy statistics for England show 43,617 nursing vacancies, leaving 12% of full-time nursing posts now unfilled.