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For A Labour Party In Government, Nurses Will Be At The Heart Of Our NHS

12/05/2017 11:30 BST | Updated 12/05/2017 11:30 BST
Dan Kitwood via Getty Images

This Friday 12 May is Nurses' Day, marking the anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing.

It's a time to pay tribute to the UK's 700,000 brilliant nurses and the role they play in keeping all of us safe and well cared for during our times of need.

Nurses work in a huge variety of settings, from hospitals and hospices to schools and care homes, and we should never stop being grateful to them for giving their working lives to helping others.

That's why it's been so shocking to hear recent reports of nurses having to go to food banks because the Conservative pay squeeze has left them unable to make ends meet. Just as bad, Jeremy Hunt and Theresa May seem completely disinterested in stepping in to help.

The truth is nurses have been taken for granted for too long by the Conservatives.

Under the Tories, nurses have been pushed to the limit. A pay freeze has seen wages fall 14% below inflation. Cut backs to training places have stretched the workforce further. Nurses are constantly being asked to do more with less.

And now Brexit threatens the ability of our NHS to recruit from abroad, and threatens thousands of good, kind European staff who are working in our country already. Labour would make the NHS a priority in the Brexit negotiations, and we would give an immediate NHS guarantee to all European NHS staff.

So as Labour's Shadow Health Secretary, and with an election underway, I have been setting out how Labour in Government can support our nursing workforce over the years to come.

At this election, Labour is offering a long term plan which gives nurses and other NHS staff the support they need to do the best possible job for patients.

Nurses deserve to be rewarded for the complex, difficult and highly specialised professional work that they do. So a Labour government will scrap the NHS pay cap, put pay decisions back into the hands of the independent pay review body and give our NHS workers the pay they deserve. It's fair to staff and it's in the interest of patients too.

And it's also in the interests of patients that we invest in the potential of our health workforce. My long term ambition is for our NHS to have the best trained staff in the world, ready to deal with whatever they face in the years to come.

So we will re-introduce bursaries and reinstate funding for health related degrees so that people who want to get into health professions - whether they are young people starting out or older students who want a new career after starting a family - don't feel put off by financial considerations.

After seven years of Tory mismanagement our health services dangerously understaffed. We are thousands short, not just on nurses but on midwives and paramedics too. Time and again expert reports have told us that staffing levels are linked to patient safety, but this Government is selling the public short.

So the next Labour government will legislate to ensure safe staffing levels in England's NHS, including looking at legally enforced staffing ratios.

This Nurses' Day takes place during a busy election campaign, and this is my offer to Britain's fantastic nursing staff: better pay, funded training, and safe staffing levels set in law so that you get the proper support you need at work.

We all rely on nurses during our times of need. It's time they were able to rely on us. For a Labour Party in Government, nurses will be at the heart of our NHS, and will always be given the respect and support that they need to carry out the job to the best of their abilities.

Jon Ashworth is Labour's shadow health secretary