Labour would scrap the 1% pay cap currently imposed on nurses and midwives and introduce new laws on safe staffing in the NHS if the party gets into government.
Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth will on Wednesday also set out plans to reinstate bursaries for students studying health-related degrees in a speech to the UNISON Health Conference in Liverpool.
He will unveil a three-point ‘election guarantee’ for NHS workers and pledge a Corbyn-led government would:
- Increase pay to a sustainable level and return to public sector pay agreed through collective bargaining and evidence from independent pay bodies
- Put safe staffing levels into law ‘so that finances never take precedent over patient safety’
- Ensure a fully-funded education for those training to enter the health service
The party says there are around 26,000 unfilled nursing posts and 3,500 vacant midwife positions - a situation currently dealt with by drafting in temporary staff at a cost of £3bn a year - and vowed to ask the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) to restart work on helping trusts judge safe staffing levels - a scheme started in November 2013 but dropped by the government in June 2015.
The move could be viewed as a demonstration by the party that it has learned lessons from the Mid-Staffs hospital scandal, in which hundreds of patients died as a result of poor care and neglect.
In his speech at UNISON, which represents half a million healthcare workers, Ashworth will also set out plans for the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) to assess whether there are ‘health settings which would benefit from legally enforced staffing ratios’.
He is expected to say: “Safe staffing levels will be a priority for a Labour government. After seven years of Tory mismanagement our health services are dangerously understaffed. We are thousands short on the numbers of nurses, midwives, GPs and paramedics that we need.
“Time and again expert reports have told us that staffing levels are linked to patient safety but the Conservative government has failed to deliver the numbers of extra staff that patients need.”
The current government has previously been criticised for its decision to limit NHS pay rises to 1% a year - an increase of barely £5 per week - by unions and MPs who warned it could exacerbate already serious understaffing.
“NHS staff have been taken for granted for too long by the Conservatives,” Ashworth will say.
“Cuts to pay and training mean hard working staff are being forced from NHS professions and young people are being put off before they have even started. Now Brexit threatens the ability of health employers to recruit from overseas.
“What is bad for NHS staff is bad for patients too. Short staffing means reduced services and a threat to patient safety. Labour’s new guarantees for NHS staff will help keep services running at the standard which England’s patients expect.”
Philip Dunne MP, Minister of State for Health, said: “A strong NHS needs a strong economy. Only Theresa May and the Conservatives offer the strong and stable leadership we need to secure our growing economy and with it funding for the NHS and its dedicated staff.
“We’ve protected and increased the NHS budget and got thousands more staff in hospitals. But all that’s at risk with Jeremy Corbyn’s nonsensical economic policies that would mean less money for the NHS. Just look at Wales where Labour’s economic mismanagement mean they had to cut funding.
“There’s a real risk of Jeremy Corbyn getting into government because the SNP and Liberal Democrats would do a deal to put him there. Only a vote for Theresa May and your local Conservative candidate can protect our economy and public services.”