Labour leadership candidate, Owen Smith MP, has described the Government’s decision to scrap student nurse bursaries as “utterly counterproductive”.
Smith was speaking at the University of Salford to warn that the Tory government has “teed up” a privatised NHS.
He said: “Scrapping the nurse bursaries – obviously counterproductive if you wanted to deal with insufficient nurses coming into the profession. I would reinstate that instantly.”
Smith pledged to reverse the Government’s decision by finding £3 billion through taxes on those earning more than £150,000 annually.
He added that the extra money it would open up nursing courses to a further 10,000 students, “double spending on cancer and dementia research” and allow greater investment in mental health services.
Smith also highlighted the importance of career progression in nursing and midwifery as a way of improving staff retention.
Smith outlined three threats to the NHS including Brexit and underfunding in addition to privatisation.
“We are still extraordinarily reliant on staff from the European economic area. That is going to become more difficult for hospitals across this country.
If I were a nurse coming from another part of the European Union, I think I’d be thinking twice right now about whether I’d make my future and my career by uprooting my family and coming to work in England, in NHS.”
Smith highlighted that last year a third of nurses came from outside the UK – a gap that the leadership hopeful said the Tories have no plans to plug.
“If they have a plan, it wouldn’t be to cut nurse bursaries would it?” he said.
“If you really thought they cared about the problem we’ve got with recruiting nurses in this country, I say this in an institution that is training nurses in this country, you wouldn’t be cutting nurse bursaries and yet that is precisely what they’ve done,” he added.
Smith, who described the junior doctor contract dispute as a “fiasco”, also said it was an “error of judgement” from the new Prime Minister to keep Jeremy Hunt as health secretary.
The former shadow secretary for work and pensions said Department of Health spending on the private sector has doubled to £8.7 billion since the Conservatives came into power in 2010. The Department of health has refuted Smith’s claims.