The Scottish Labour party has unveiled its first election pledge as 1,000 extra nurses, signalling the importance already being attached to the health service workforce ahead of the general election.
Speaking in Edinburgh yesterday, Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy pledged that funding from the UK-wide Mansion Tax will be used to fund the additional nurses.
Up to 95% of the revenues generated by the tax will come from the South East of England, and will provide an additional £250m for Scotland.
“When we talk of loved ones who have been cared for so brilliantly by the NHS, so often what we actually mean is cared for by NHS nurses”
Labour claimed that the pledge would deliver funding for more nurses “over and above anything” that the Scottish National Party could propose.
Mr Murphy noted that NHS spending in Scotland had been historically higher than the rest of the UK, but said increases in health funding had been falling behind in recent years.
He quoted research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies that found the Scottish Government investment in the NHS was set to fall by 1% in real terms.
“Our NHS workers are nothing short of extraordinary,” he said. “When we talk of loved ones who have been cared for so brilliantly by the NHS, so often what we actually mean is cared for by NHS nurses.
“I want to honour this work as I set out Scottish Labour’s first election pledge,” said Mr Murphy.
“We will support the NHS and nurses and use the money from a UK mansion tax to fund an additional 1,000 NHS nurses in Scotland over and above the SNP plans that we inherit,” he added.
In response, the SNP claimed Labour’s sums were wrong. It said the mansion tax would generate £1.2bn across the whole of the UK, but Labour had claimed they expected to see £250m come to Scotland from the policy – more than 20% of the total revenue raised.
The SNP argued that even if £1.2bn was spent in full on devolved parts of the UK, Scotland would receive far less than £250m.
“What we need is a whole system review to ensure that we understand how many nurses and other health and social care staff we need”
The party added that since it took office, the number of whole time equivalent qualified nurses and midwives in Scotland had increased by around 1,700.
SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson said: “While Labour’s desire to follow the SNP’s lead in recruiting more nurses is welcome, their sums simply don’t make sense.”
Commenting on the Labour pledge, the Royal College of Nursing said it would welcome “any serious investment” in the nursing workforce.
RCN Scotland director Theresa Fyffe said: “Health boards have shown that they recognise more nurses are needed to meet the needs of patients by trying to recruit more, which is encouraging. But it takes time to develop nurses with the right knowledge and skills to care for patients.
“What we need is a whole system review of health and social care to ensure that we understand how many nurses and other health and social care staff we need, and what investment is required to develop them, to continue to meet the needs of patients now and in the future,” she said.