The Conservative manifesto promises “50,000 more nurses” for the NHS.
The devil is in the detail, as always, and some critics accused the Conservatives of pulling a fast one.
The costings document that accompanied the manifesto clarified that the party wanted to spend between £759m and £879m a year from 2020/21 to 2023/24 on “nurse recruitment, training and retention”.
The “retention” bit is important: this means hanging on to nurses who would otherwise have left the profession.
Various reports quote Conservative sources as saying that the 50,000 target breaks down like this: there will be 31,500 newly recruited nurses, made up of 5,000 apprenticeships, 14,000 training bursaries and 12,500 overseas recruits.
The other 18,500 out of 50,000 are nurses who will be encouraged to stay in the profession rather than quitting. This is the “retention” part.
The fact that around a third of the 50,000 are already working in the NHS has sparked some criticism, with Labour calling the Conservative announcement “deceitful” and “fake”.
But the government says there will still be more nurses than before, whether they are new recruits or potential leavers who have been persuaded to stay.
The health secretary, Matt Hancock, said: “There’s currently just over 280,000 nurses in the NHS and our commitment is to take that to just over 330,000 nurses in the NHS. That’s 50,000 more nurses and that’s what we are going to do.”
The Royal College of Nursing and other bodies that comment on the NHS have called for the government to do more to hang on to experienced nurses.
There’s a catch though
The NHS’s Long Term Plan, released in January this year, already contains a commitment to improve “staff retention by at least 2 per cent by 2025, the equivalent of 12,400 additional nurses”.
So a campaign to improve nursing numbers through better retention has already been announced and funded. A drive to get 12,400 additional nurses over the next parliament was happening already, before the Conservative manifesto.
A Conservative source told FactCheck that the figure of 50,000 more nurses includes those already targeted in the Long Term Plan.
Clearly, the Conservatives have gone further in their manifesto promise – eyeing an extra 18,500 nurses through the retention route, rather than the 12,400 previously envisaged.
But about a quarter of the 50,000 extra nurses the Conservatives say they want to retain or recruit were already predicted to stay in the NHS anyway under a previous announcement.