Labour will train an additional 10,000 nurses for the NHS if it wins the general election, Ed Miliband has announced. The boost in training places, included in the party's 10-year plan for the NHS, would be paid for from Labour's £2.5 billion Time to Care investment fund, raised from a mansion tax on homes worth over £2 million, a levy on tobacco firms and cracking down on tax avoidance, said Miliband.
The Labour leader said that the number of nurses trained had fallen by 8,000 under the coalition, compared to 2010 levels, forcing the NHS to rely on expensive agency nurses and thousands of nurses recruited from overseas. The Royal College of Nursing recently published figures showing that there were 6,228 nursing registrations from abroad in 2013/14 - an increase of nearly 45% on the previous year. In the same year, 4,379 nurses left the UK to work overseas.
Meanwhile, Labour said that foundation trusts' spending on agency staff has soared by more than £500 million to £1.4 billion. Miliband said that his plan to raise the number of nurse training places to 21,000 a year was a key step towards meeting Labour's pledge to deliver 20,000 more nurses, 8,000 more GPs, 5,000 new homecare workers, and 3,000 more midwives for the NHS.
"Under David Cameron, there have been 8,000 fewer nurses trained and hospitals have been left scrambling to repair the damage - paying hundreds of millions of pounds in agency fees," said the Labour leader. Our training courses in this country are massively over-subscribed and so many talented young people in Britain are missing out on the opportunity of these rewarding jobs. Instead, the NHS is forced to bring in agency staff or recruit from overseas.
"People coming to work in the NHS from other countries make a hugely important contribution and our health service would not cope without them. But Britain cannot afford to waste the talents of thousands of people in this country who would become nurses if the training places were available. And our health service cannot afford to pay high costs for hiring agency staff because of the chronic staff shortages created by this Government. As part of our Time to Care investment fund, Labour will train 10,000 more nurses above current training levels so that we achieve an average 21,000 training places a year in the next Parliament."
An RCN survey has estimated that there are 54,000 applicants a year for 20,000 training places - meaning more than 30,000 would-be nurses are turned down. The announcement on nurse training came after Miliband set out plans for a new army of 5,000 NHS homecare workers and new home safety visits for people at risk of going into hospital as Labour put the NHS at the heart of its general election campaign.
A Conservative spokesman said: "Ed Miliband thinks he can spend the same money twice over. Earlier today he said he would use this revenue to cut the deficit, but now he's saying he would use it for the NHS. Unfunded spending commitments like these would bring back economic chaos to Britain, putting our NHS at risk. Greece was forced to cut its health budget by 14%, because - like Ed Miliband - it forgot about the deficit. That's why he is simply not up to the job."
A poll by ComRes for the Independent suggested the NHS was deemed a higher priority for voters than the economy. Of 1,001 adults surveyed by phone last weekend, three in five, or 59%, said policy on the NHS would influence their voting decision more than economic policy, while some 34% said the economy was more important to them than health policy.
Ukip head of policy Suzanne Evans said the party would spend £3 billion saved from EU membership fees on the NHS. Evans said: "Our precious NHS is cracking at the seams. A&E departments are in crisis. We need at least another 10,000 GPs to cope with demand. Staff morale in the NHS is at rock bottom. Hospitals are getting deeper and deeper into debt. The NHS needs a serious injection of cash to help sort out the mess both Labour and the Tories have got it into. They privatised significant chunks of it and constantly use it as a political football.
"Labour still refuses to face up to the fact they racked up debts of £300 billion on private finance initiatives (PFIs), and the Tories will not apologise for their £4 billion top-down reorganisation - which breached every promise they made to you, the voter. Ukip believes we should leave the European Union and spend £3 billion of the £10 billion we pay out every year in membership fees on the NHS instead."
Tory housing minister Brandon Lewis said: "This Government has already introduced a Builders Finance Fund for small builders, with the first contracts on course to be signed soon. Labour don't mention that it's their official party policy to hike up taxes and building regulations on small builders, adding up to £30,0000 to the cost of building a new home. Labour just offer the same failed policies of higher taxes and more red tape."