Tory health minister says 'even if we didn't have any new nurses, just by reducing the number who leave, you would end up with more nurses in the NHS'

'Surely even he can now abandon the ludicrous spin on this pledge and just be honest with people,' says Labour

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Wednesday 18 December 2019 13:48
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Health Secretary Matt Hancock attempts to clarify the government's policy on 50,000 more nurses

A senior Conservative minister has been urged to drop “ludicrous spin” after claiming that even if the NHS did not hire any new nurses in the coming years the health service would have more nurses in its ranks.

Matt Hancock, the health secretary, defended the flagship Tory manifesto commitment which Boris Johnson’s new government has a vowed to deliver on following the general election.

During the campaign, the document stated the party would add “50,000 more nurses” to the NHS workforce, but it quickly emerged the figure included 18,500 existing nurses who will be encouraged to stay in their posts.

The recruitment plan also included 14,000 new nursing places, 5,000 nursing apprenticeships and an attempt to recruit 12,500 nursing professionals from abroad.

Appearing on BBC Breakfast to highlight the government’s plans to partially reintroduce to the nursing bursary, Mr Hancock defended what he described as a “crystal clear” policy.

Pressed on whether it was 50,000 “new” nurses, he replied: “It’s 50,000 more nurses. A large part of that will be new nurses entering, but also there’s been significant pressures on nurses in recent years and more are leaving the profession than I want to see.

“The number of nurses in the NHS will be 50,000 more than it is today – that is the commitment, we’re going to meet that commitment, I’m absolutely determined about it.”

Pressed again by a clearly frustrated presenter on the BBC, the health secretary insisted: “We will increase the number of nurses by 50,000.”

“There’s only so many times I can explain the same thing,” Mr Hancock added. “Every year at the moment around 27,000 nurses leave the NHS. I want to reduce that number.

“Even if we didn’t have any new nurses, just by reducing the number who leave, you would end up with more nurses in the NHS. That retention of existing nurses contributes to increasing the number of nurses in the NHS and that is very important.”

Responding to Mr Hancock’s comments, Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, said: “After Matt Hancock has been reappointed health secretary surely even he can now abandon the ludicrous spin on this pledge and just be honest with people”.

The clash came after the Royal College of Nursing said the new policy to restore some grants for trainee nurses was only a “first step” to removing barriers and that more funding was needed.

Mr Johnson announced on Tuesday all nursing students on courses from September 2020 will now receive a £5,000 a year grant, while additional payments of up to £3,000 are available for students in regions or specialisms struggling to recruit.

Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said: “With tens of thousands of vacant nurse jobs in England, serious measures are needed and this grant is a first victory for the campaign that our student nurses are running.

"This announcement will hopefully encourage more people to apply to a nursing degree by the mid-January deadline.”

But she added: “In the run up to the Budget, we continue to call for our students to not pay tuition fees up-front. Any barriers for people wanting to enter nursing must be removed."

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