The main three political parties have told Nursing Times they are committed to continuing to increase nurse staffing levels, especially in the community.
The Labour Party said it wanted to ensure nurses had “enough time to give the care they want to patients” by tackling what it described as the workforce “crisis” in the NHS.
“Labour wants to see training places averaging 21,000 a year during the next parliament”
Shadow health minister Andrew Gwynne reiterated a previous election pledge, telling Nursing Times that it was committed to there being 20,000 more nurses in the NHS by 2020.
“Improving retention is one part of that,” he said. “But we also need to increase training places. Labour wants to see training places averaging 21,000 a year during the next parliament, rather than the current 19,000.”
Increasing nurse staffing levels was identified by the party as its top priority for nursing.
In comparison, Conservative health minister Dr Dan Poulter highlighted the increase in hospital nurse staffing levels that has already occurred in the wake of the Francis report, but said training more community nurses would be a “key priority” if his party won the election.
He highlighted current workforce figures that he said showed around 7,000 more nurses were working in the health service since the coalition had come to power in 2010.
“One of the areas where we need to do more training is community services, so that we can help keep our increasingly elderly population well at home, and prevent unnecessary hospital admissions,” he said.
“This will be a key priority for future Conservative ministers if our party is re-elected,” stated Dr Poulter.
“The best way to secure extra nurses in future is to make sure we have a growing economy that can pay for their salaries as part of an increasing NHS budget,” he added.
“One of the areas where we need to do more training is community services”
Liberal Democrat care minister Norman Lamb also highlighted the importance of links between health service finances and increasing staffing levels.
“The number one priority for nursing in the next parliament must be to guarantee the NHS the funding it needs,” he said.
Mr Lamb cited the Liberal Democrat pledge to agree to fund “in full” the five-year plan, set out by NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens, in order to “deliver the best deal possible for the public, patients, carers and staff”.
Like Dr Poulter, he also referred to the increase in nurses in the health service over recent years.
“In the next government we want to see greater numbers of nurses working in the community, playing a greater role in joining up the work of the health and care systems and offering nurses an ever greater range of opportunities to develop their careers,” he said.
For context, the latest figures for the NHS workforce show an increase of 6,434 whole time equivalent nurses in the NHS in England between May 2010, when the coalition government came to power, and the end of last year.
The provisional figures, published on 25 March by the NHS Health and Social Care Information Centre show that in May 2010 there were 310,793 WTE nurses and in December 2014 there were 317,22, an increase of about 2%.
In comparison, over the same period the number of WTE nurses defined as working in community services fell from 48,068 to 47,427, a drop of 641.
“We want to see greater numbers of nurses working in the community”
As the general election approaches, Nursing Times has asked all of the main parties what their priorities for nursing are, including how they intend to retain nurses in practice and whether they agree that extra numbers of nurses in training are needed.
It forms part of a wider initiative by Nursing Times to give politicians the opportunity to set out their stall on why nurses should vote for them.
We asked them to answer the same series of questions, which were suggested by you, the readers, and our advisory board earlier this year.
Over next few weeks until 7 May, we will be publishing the full questions and answers results in Nursing Times.
We begin this week with the Conservatives, who will be followed next week by Labour and then the Liberal Democrats and after that some of the other parties who may end up forming part of a coalition.
You can also find the information online, where we have created a special election page, which pulls together all our news stories on pre-election pledges made by the parties so far about nursing and the NHS, plus extra analysis to help you decide who should get your vote.