Labour leader Ed Miliband is expected to make a pledge to increase the numbers of registered nurses working in the NHS by 20,000 if Labour wins the next election, Nursing Times understands.
The Labour leader will address delegates at the party conference in Manchester today, where sources suggest he will promise the increase nurses under a Labour government to help the NHS meet existing and future demand.
It has been suggested the pledge will be for whole-time equivalent nurses and cover the five years of the next parliament, aimed at filling existing shortages and future demands cause by increasing acuity of patients.
If the rumours are accurate, the pledge will follow months of intense nurse recruitment by NHS trusts in the wake of the Francis Report into Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust, which linked staff shortages with care failings.
Since August last year, the numbers of whole-time equivalent registered nurses has increased by more than 8,000.
In the acute setting, where most recruitment has been focused, the number of nurses has risen from 169,000 nurses in August 2013 to a high of 175,000 in May.
Despite the increase in the nursing workforce, nurses told Nursing Times in May that they remained short-staffed and under pressure – with the situation unlikely to have improved as we approach winter.
In addition, latest figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre, published earlier this month, show the numbers of nurses across all settings are beginning to fall again.
Overall, across the NHS, the numbers of nurses, midwives and health visiting staff have dropped from a high of nearly 315,000 in March 2014 to 313,700 in June.
In acute settings, numbers have levelled off – dropping from 175,235 in May to 175,039 in June 2014.
The recruitment drives have also exposed a supply shortage of available nurses to fill posts in the UK, with many trusts sending teams overseas to recruit staff.
Meanwhile, Health Education England has increase the number of university training places by 9% and will launch a major programme later this month to encourage thousands of nurses back into the profession.
The central plank of the scheme will be to offer former nurses free return to practice courses, as revealed exclusively in this week’s Nursing Times.
The national media also carries predictions that the content of the Labour leader’s conference speech today will focus on the NHS and investing in it.
The Guardian has reported that Mr Miliband will put the nation’s health at the centre of a 10-year-plan for Britain’s future, backing the NHS with funding from a novel windfall tax on the profits of UK tobacco companies and the proceeds of a mansion tax on homes worth more than £2m.
A mansion tax could raise £1.7bn and had originally been earmarked by the shadow chancellor Ed Balls, to fund a 10p starting rate of income tax, but that is now due to be funded by abolishing the marriage tax rate.