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Summer statement ‘missed opportunity to fund nursing workforce’

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The chancellor ‘missed an opportunity’ to invest in the nursing workforce in his summer statement yesterday, unions have warned.

Unions including the Royal College of Nursing have said that Rishi Sunak’s spending announcements should have included measures to address recruitment and retention in the nursing profession.

Instead, the ‘mini Budget’ – expected to cost the treasury around £30bn – focused on protecting jobs and stabilising the employment market.

RCN chief executive Dame Donna Kinnair said more investment in the nursing workforce would have spurred economic growth, increased the country’s resilience and saved lives.

Dame Donna continued: ‘Investments in the health and care workforce are vital, as are steps to address the structural issues in the UK health service that Covid-19 has exposed and worsened.’

The Budget featured meal vouchers to encourage people to support the hospitality industry in the wake of Covid-19 and a £1,000 job retention bonus for employers who keep on furloughed staff.

It also pledged £1.05bn for NHS critical maintenance and A&E capacity across England, as well as up to £250m to modernise the mental health estate, replacing outdated mental health dormitories with 1,300 single bedrooms across 25 providers.

A further £200m will be spent on the health infrastructure plan to accelerate 40 new hospital building projects in England, it vowed.

In addition, the budget highlighted the £31.1bn investment made so far to help health services tackle Covid-19, following Mr Sunak’s pledge in March to give the NHS whatever resources it needs.

This includes £15bn on personal protective equipment for frontline staff, £10bn on the test and trace programme – which the Independent Scientific Advisory Group said nurses were ‘vital’ to – and more than £1bn on procuring of additional ventilators for the NHS. 

Since the start of the outbreak, the Treasury has also approved £5.5bn spending on health services, including enhancing the NHS discharge service allowing patients to leave hospital more quickly if they were medically fit to do so, although this has resulted in extra pressure on community nurses.

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said that while there’s much for young people, the energy sector and UK businesses to ‘celebrate’, there’s ‘next to nothing’ for public services and healthcare workers in the budget.

He said: ‘Proper investment in our public services would help speed the country back to recovery and more prosperous, certain times. It would heal over the deep cracks in care and the NHS exposed by the pandemic.’

Announcing the plan, Mr Sunak said: ‘Our plan has a clear goal: to protect, support and create jobs. It will give businesses the confidence to retain and hire.’

The Government has promised a more comprehensive Budget and spending review in the autumn, including ‘further plans to invest in public services’.

Unison and the RCN were among 14 unions who wrote to the chancellor and Prime Minister last week, asking for an early pay rise for nurses.