General election 2017: Labour promises pay rises for NHS staff

NHS staff will get higher pay and there will be no tuition fees for student nurses and midwives under a Labour government, the party is promising.

Labour said the policies would help address staffing shortages in England that had become a “threat to patients”.

The promises mark the first of what are expected to be a series of policy announcements on the NHS by Labour.

But the Conservatives said Labour’s nonsensical economic policies would put the health service at risk.

“A strong NHS needs a strong economy. Only Theresa May and the Conservatives offer the strong and stable leadership we need to secure our growing economy and with it, funding for the NHS and its dedicated staff,” Health Minister Philip Dunne added.

Three specific guarantees have been set out by Labour. These are:

  • Scrapping the 1% pay cap in place this Parliament so that pay is increased to a “sustainable level” for all NHS staff
  • Reversing the end of bursaries and introduction of tuition fees planned for August for student nurses and midwives
  • Tougher rules on safe staffing levels in NHS settings

Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said NHS staff had been “ignored, insulted, undervalued, overworked and underpaid” by the Conservative government.

“Enough is enough. What is bad for NHS staff is bad for patients too. Short staffing means reduced services and a threat to patient safety.

“Labour’s new guarantees for NHS staff will help keep services running at the standards which England’s patients expect.”

Short of frontline staff

Last year, the Public Accounts Committee estimated the NHS in England was around 6% short of the frontline staff that it needed.

The report was published after ministers put a halt to a review of safe staffing levels that was being carried out by NHS advisory body, NICE.

Another body, NHS Improvement, has now started looking at the issue, but Labour said it would hand responsibility back to NICE and pass legislation to make recommendations binding.

The move on pay and bursaries has pleased the Royal College of Nursing.

The union has already announced it will be taking soundings from its members about strike action over the pay cap.

It says a combination of pay freezes and caps on pay rises since 2010 have, in effect, led to a 14% pay cut due to the rising cost of living.

It has also fought a vigorous campaign against the scrapping of bursaries and grants, which ministers have argued was needed to increase the number of training places that could be afforded.

RCN general secretary Janet Davies said: “A health service that works for patients must value its staff.”

But she said the political parties should go further and promise to “increase investment” overall.

Keeping bursaries and not introducing tuition fees would cost £800m a year – a figure which would rise by £350m for every 1% rise in pay, according to Labour.

They party has said stopping the planned reductions in corporation tax would cover the cost of the policies.

But Lib Dem health spokesman Norman Lamb said that was not the answer to the funding pressures in the NHS.

“Time and again, Jeremy Corbyn has shown that he is incapable of making the kind of difficult calls that a prime minister must be prepared to take – especially when it comes to something as important as tackling the crisis in our vital NHS and care services.”

The policies could also have implications on the rest of the UK. Health is a devolved issue, but pay caps have been imposed in other parts of the UK following England’s decision.

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