The Labour Party is to announce a “three-point election guarantee” for the NHS, with a promise to scrap the 1% cap on pay rises, reinstate the student nurse bursary and enshrine safe staffing in law.
The party will tomorrow set out three election pledges designed to appeal specifically to health service staff, and in particular nurses.
“The NHS under Labour will always get the funding it needs”
It will commit to increase pay to what it called a “sustainable level” that “reflects the complexity of the work carried out”.
To achieve this pledge, the party said it would lift the government’s ongoing 1% NHS pay cap that is holding NHS wages below inflation and “causing a health recruitment crisis”.
It also said safe staffing levels would be put into law so that “finances never take precedent over patient safety”, aping similar policies being introduced in Wales and Scotland.
As part of the promise, the party said the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence would be asked to recommence its work on safe staffing guidance, which was controversially halted in 2015.
Labour added that it would ask NICE to assess whether there were health settings that would “benefit from legally enforced staffing ratios”.
“NHS staff give 100% day in, day out with many doing life-saving work”
Lastly, it said it was committed to a fully funded education system that prepared “our NHS staff to be the best in the world”, and would reinstate funding for students doing health-related degrees.
The move to reverse the government’s recent removal of the student nurse bursary would “incentivise more young people to train to work in our NHS”, said the Labour Party.
It added that would commission research on the “equality impact” of cutting bursaries from degrees that were predominantly taken by older and female students, and that it would also consider what other forms of support would help mature students to undertake health degrees.
Overall, the party claimed it would make sure NHS staff were “properly supported to provide the best possible quality of services for patients”, if it was elected on 8 June.
The pledges will be formally unveiled tomorrow by Labour shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth, MP for Leicester South, during his keynote speech at the Unison health conference in Liverpool.
He will say: “What is bad for NHS staff is bad for patients too. Short staffing means reduced services and a threat to patient safety.”
“It’s a political choice to increase investment in health and social care”
He will state: “Labour’s new guarantees for NHS staff will help keep services running at the standard which England’s patients expect.
“I can pledge today that a Labour government will scrap the pay cap and give our NHS workers the pay they deserve,” Mr Ashworth will say.
“We’ll invest in their education and training. We’ll bring back bursaries which the Tories scrapped. Our ambition is nothing less than ensuring the best trained health staff in the world,” he will add.
He will also say: “We won’t make promises on behalf of the NHS without giving the NHS the resources and the tools to deliver those promises. The NHS under Labour will always get the funding it needs.”
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis welcomed the pledges, especially the party’s commitment on pay – a subject he had highlighted in his own speech at the conference earlier this week.
“NHS staff give 100% day in, day out with many doing life-saving work. Yet they’re struggling to get by on below-inflation wages,” said Mr Prentis.
“Lifting the 1% pay cap would give health employees a long overdue pay rise – and show them just how much they’re valued,” he said. “A decent wages increase would also help ease the crisis in staff recruitment.
The union leader also backed the idea of legislation on safe staffing and reiterated his opposition to the scrapping of the student bursary, which has seen the number of course applicants fall in England.
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“There are too few nurses, paramedics and midwives in the NHS to deliver the best care, and this is putting patients at risk,” he said.
“NHS workers would be behind new laws that make first-class care – and not cost-cutting – a priority,” said Mr Prentis.
He added: “The axing of bursaries was a short-sighted move. It’s a policy that must be overturned.”
Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, also welcomed Labour’s “guarantee for NHS staff”.
“For too long, nursing staff have been undervalued and underpaid,” she said. “The results can be seen in the spiralling number of vacant jobs, collapsing morale and services that are struggling to cope.”
She added: “It’s a political choice to increase investment in health and social care and we call on all political parties to go further and commit to the long-term funding that patients and services need.”
Jon Skewes, director for policy, employment relations and communications at the Royal College of Midwives, said: “These are very welcome commitments from the Labour Party.
“We would now want to see all parties making similar commitments to pay NHS staff fairly and staff and resource our NHS so that is can meet the demands being placed on it,” he noted.
“However, it is always easy to promise the world in opposition and when campaigning in an election,” he said. ”Whoever is in power after the next election needs to invest in the NHS and invest in its staff.”
But Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb claimed that Labour’s policy pledges did not match the available finances, and that it had “already spent this money 10 times over”, noting other election commitments on education, for example.
“The Liberal Democrats will be honest with the British people about the bold solutions needed to tackle the NHS and care crisis,” he said. “We have been very clear that we will raise taxes to pay for the NHS and social care.”
Health minister Philip Dunne took a similar line, arguing that economic stability was needed in order to bolster the NHS.
“We need to secure our growing economy and with it funding for the NHS and its dedicated staff,” he said. “We’ve protected and increased the NHS budget and got thousands more staff in hospitals.”
He claimed that Labour’s ”nonsensical economic policies” would ultiamtely mean less money for the NHS.
Labour 2017 general election pledges
Increasing NHS pay to a sustainable level:
- Labour will lift the 1% NHS pay cap imposed by the Government which is artificially holding NHS wages below inflation and causing a health recruitment crisis
- Labour would make a return to public sector pay agreed through collective bargaining and the evidence of independent pay review bodies.
- The move will help to address staffing shortages in the NHS by improving morale and increasing retention of staff, reducing the current reliance of health employers on agency staff and overseas recruitment
Legislating for safe staffing:
- Labour will introduce legislation requiring NHS trusts to have regard for patient safety when setting staffing levels in their hospitals.
- Labour will ask NICE to recommence work to support trusts to judge safety in different settings. This work was started in November 2013 but then dropped under the current government in June 2015. Labour will reinforce the work carried out by NICE by giving it a new legal basis.
- Labour will ask NICE to assess whether there are health settings which would benefit from legally enforced staffing ratios.
- This new legislation will ensure that patient safety always takes priority over financial considerations when staffing levels are being set in England’s NHS.
Fully funded education for health professions:
- Labour will reinstate funding and other support for students of health related degrees
- The move will incentivise more young people to train to work in our NHS so that health employers can access the numbers of staff they need to keep patients safe
- Labour will commission evidence on the equality impact of the Tories’ decision to remove funding from degrees predominantly taken by older and female students and will review what other support can help mature students to undertake health degrees