An extra 10,000 nurses would be trained by a Labour government to reduce the need to hire so many from overseas, Ed Miliband has announced.
The Labour leader said the move would cut the spiralling bill to the NHS for agency nurses being used to plug the gaps in hospitals. Labour denied it was trying to send a signal to working class voters tempted by Ukip that it would take a tough stance on immigration.
The pledge came as Labour unveiled its 10-year plan for the NHS. But the party’s decision to put health at the heart of its general election campaign came under fire from Alan Milburn, the Blairite former Health Secretary. He warned that Mr Miliband’s campaign was a “pale imitation” of Neil Kinnock’s 1992 election effort and could have the “same outcome” – defeat.
Mr Milburn said Labour was sticking too closely to its “comfort zone” and looked unprepared to address the “difficult choices” it would face in power. He told BBC Radio 4’s The World at One: “It would be a fatal mistake, in my view, for Labour to go into this election looking as though it is the party that would better resource the NHS but not necessarily put its foot to the floor when it comes to reforming.”
Labour denied the criticism, insisting that its NHS plan included reforms that would save money.
The increasing strain on NHS resources
Mr Miliband vowed to tackle a “growing staffing crisis” he blamed on the Coalition for cutting the number of nurses trained by 8,000 since 2011. He said there were 6,228 nursing registrations from abroad in the 2013-14 financial year, a 45 per cent rise on the previous year, while 4,379 nurses left the UK to work overseas. There were 54,000 applicants each year for 20,000 training places. At the same time, spending on agency nurses had risen from £855m to £1.4bn since 2010.
Labour would train an extra 2,000 nurses a year for five years at a cost of £160m annually, raising the number trained to 21,000 a year. The money would come from its £2.5bn “time to care” fund raised partly by a mansion tax on homes worth more than £2m.
Mr Miliband said: “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.”
The Labour leader added: “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.”
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 per cent, because – like Ed Miliband – it forgot about the deficit. That’s why he is simply not up to the job.”Reuse content