David Cameron will announce a £155m boost for nursing and cancer treatment today as he seeks to demonstrate the Conservatives' own "One Nation" credentials.
The Prime Minister and Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, will reaffirm the party's commitment to public services as they tour a hospital ahead of the opening of the Tory conference in Birmingham.
The move follows an attack by Ed Miliband this week on the party's attitude to the National Health Service and an attempt by the Labour leader to l ay claim to the "One Nation" label traditionally associated with the Conservatives. Cabinet ministers will also use the conference to trumpet their education and welfare reforms as proof that the Government is making a positive difference to everyday life.
In the face of accusations that thousands of medical staff have lost their jobs since the Coalition came to power, the Prime Minister will set out plans for a £100m drive to equip nurses with hi-tech devices and software designed to reduce the time that they spend on form-filling and to free them up for patient care. The money will be in the form of a loan, but hospitals that use the equipment effectively will not have to pay the cash back.
Mr Hunt said: "Most nurses and midwives chose their profession because they wanted to spend time caring for patients, not filling out paperwork. New technology can make that happen. That's better for nurses and patients too, who will get swifter information and more face-to-face time with NHS staff."
A further £40m will be spent on developing on programmes for ward sisters and other senior nurses to develop their leadership skills. Up to 1,000 nurses will receive the training this year, rising to 10,000 a year by 2014.
One of the aims is to help nurses to treat patients compassionately at all times and explain more clearly what is happening to them. The PM will also issue a guarantee that all cancer patients will have access to innovative radiotherapy wherever "clinically appropriate, safe and cost-effective", as well as a £15m fund to invest in potentially life-saving cancer treatments.
Senior Tories acknowledge that the upheavals of NHS reform have had an impact on voters' confidence in the Coalition's handling of health, but insist the crucial factor in determining the public attitude will be the Government's ability to drive up standards of patient care. Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, will tell the conference he is overhauling the system that allows civil servants to undertake trade union duties during work hours. They will be barred from spending more than half their time on union work and Whitehall departments will be told to slash the amount of their budgets that is spent on union representation.
A Cabinet Office source said: "For years under Labour there was insufficient monitoring of union activities. That's all going to change.
"Some civil servants have spent well over a decade doing nothing but trade union work and have even been promoted while doing so. That just isn't fair to the taxpayer."
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