Boris Johnson’s promise of 50,000 new nurses for the NHS includes 18,500 existing NHS nurses.
It’s the headline policy from the Tory manifesto, launched this afternoon in Telford.
But it fell apart within hours of being announced – as the party were forced to admit the figure included thousands of nurses ‘retained’ in the health service.
Labour branded the claim “deceitful.”
The party also announced the return of maintenance grants, worth £5,000 to £8,000 a year for student nurses.
But there was no mention in the manifesto of help to pay for tuition fees.
Tory officials said the 50,000 figure would be made up of 14,000 new undergraduate student nurses and 5,000 degree apprenticeships.
They will be supplemented by 12,500 nurses brought to the UK from abroad, making 31,000 ‘new’ nurses.
The other 18,500, the party say, will be nurses who are ‘retained’ in the health service who would otherwise have left.
They said they had plans to keep nurses in the profession, including professional training, support and more childcare for returning mums.
But it means at least 40% of the promised 50,000 nurses are already NHS nurses.
Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “The Conservatives’ claim on nurses is frankly deceitful – the sums simply don’t add up. First we had Johnson’s fake 40 new hospitals, now we have his fake 50,000 extra nurses.
“Matt Hancock and Tory ministers forced through the abolition of the bursary partly causing the nursing crisis afflicting our NHS today. The new damaging Tory nurses’ tax on European nurses will make it impossible to deliver the nurses our NHS needs.”
“Labour will deliver over 50,000 new nurses through bringing back the bursary and allowing ethical international recruitment.”
The announcement marked a humiliating climbdown for the Conservatives, who reversed their disastrous policy of scrapping student nurses’ bursaries, introduced in 2016.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the policy was already about creating new training places for student nurses.
But figures show 1 in 20 student nursing places – some 1,450 in total – went unfilled in 2019.
Between the policy being implemented in June 2016 and February this year nursing degree applications in England fell by 13,000, according to figures from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).
With 40,000 vacancies remaining unfilled, the nurses union said the fall in student numbers had put patient safety at risk.
The RCN said the promise of maintenance grants for student nurses did not amount to a return of the student nurses’ bursary.
Dame Donna Kinnair, General Secretary and Chief Executive of the RCN, said: “The current double whammy of both tuition fees and living costs for a nursing degree are a barrier to many wanting to pursue a nursing career, so we need additional funding for both elements, not just living costs as the Conservative manifesto proposes.
“Forcing would-be nurses to pay tuition fees has demonstrably failed in the last two years.
“With this announcement, Boris Johnson has not brought back the bursary – he is pledging to return one element of the package and keep the costly tuition fees in place.”
The figures show the number of mature nursing student applications from people over 25 in England has seen an even greater decline, falling by 41% since the bursary was removed.