Jeremy Hunt will try to reverse a damaging crash in the number of applications for nurse training, with a promise of cash for fast-track courses.
The Health Secretary will announce an “historic 25 per cent increase in nurse training”, to allow an extra 5,000 nurses to start their degrees next year.
He will also pledge funding for a further 5,500 “nursing associates” each year – who will “earn and learn”, rather than study full-time through a traditional university degree.
A “right to buy affordable homes developed on surplus NHS land” will also be promised, in Mr Hunt’s speech to the Conservative party conference.
“This represents the biggest increase in nurse training places in the history of the NHS,” the Health Secretary will tell the Tory faithful in Manchester.
However, the announcement comes hard-on-the heels of a 23 per cent collapse in the number of applications to nursing and midwifery courses at British universities, this autumn.
The slump was triggered by George Osborne’s controversial decision to axe bursaries, sparking fury among health workers.
The former Chancellor claimed replacing with loans would free up about £800m a year to create additional nursing roles by 2020 and help more students enter the profession.
But nursing leaders said would-be trainees had – as predicted – turned their backs on the possible career, once they had to pay annual tuition fees of more than £9,000.
Ministers have also been accused of failing to fund the extra nurse training places promised for this autumn.
Mr Hunt will attempt to draw a line under the controversy, saying: “The NHS will be looking after a million more over 75's in just a decade, so we need to jump-start nurse training.
“This represents the biggest increase in nurse training places in the history of the NHS - and we will make sure that many of the additional places go to healthcare assistants training on hospital sites, allowing us to expand our nurse workforce with some highly experienced people already working on the NHS frontline.
“We will also improve retention rates amongst our current workforce with new flexible working arrangements to be made available to all NHS staff, and a new right of first refusal for affordable housing built on NHS property.
“Combined with the 25 per cent increase in medical school places announced last year, this will transform the ability of our NHS to cope with the pressures ahead.”
The details of the “new flexible working arrangements” on the way are likely to be studied very carefully by staff still fighting long-running pay restrictions.
The Government has pledged to lift the one per cent pay cap next year, but has yet to say whether the increases will match rising inflation – or be awarded to all workers.
The “first refusal on affordable homes built on surplus NHS land” will be seen as an attempt to head off criticism that health service land is being flogged off to try to balance the books.
The speech comes against the backdrop of the continued NHS funding squeeze and warnings of a multi-billion pound black hole by the end of the decade.
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