The last of the major party manifestos, launched at the weekend and so close to the General Election as to give that much less time for detailed examination, the Tories’ offering yesterday was deliberately low-key and safety first. There would be none of the howlers that befell Theresa May, no so-called “dementia tax”, just a few scraps to please the party’s press cheerleaders amid an assumption that winning was in the bag.
But into every manifesto refuge a little rain must fall, and so it has come to pass with one of The Blue Team’s promises. Worse, this promise is on the NHS, which the Tories are still pretending will be safe in their hands, despite winter health emergencies being already with us. The manifesto has claimed that, under the premiership of alleged Prime Minister Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, the NHS will recruit 50,000 more nurses.
As the Independent has reported, “Launching the document in Telford, the prime minister said that Conservatives would deliver 50,000 more nurses, 6,000 more doctors and 50 million more GP surgery appointments each year as part of ‘the biggest cash boost for the NHS for a generation’, worth an extra £34bn by the end of the next parliament”.
There was more. "Backed by £725m of new government money, the recruitment plan also includes 14,000 new nursing training places supported by bursaries of up to £8,000, as well as 5,000 more nursing apprentices and 12,500 recruits from abroad”. But then came the first part of a doubly embarrassing whammy.
“But party sources later confirmed that the 50,000 figure includes an estimated 18,500 existing nurses who will be encouraged to remain within the NHS or attracted back after leaving by new measures to improve career development opportunities”. So the 50,000 is actually 31,500. And then there were those recruits from abroad.
They “will be required to pay a £464 visa and £400 annual surcharge branded a ‘nurse tax’ by critics”. Labour’s Jonathan Ashworth was on to it like a shot. “First we had Johnson’s fake 40 new hospitals, now we have his fake 50,000 extra nurses”. Then came another problem with the nurse bursaries. It was the Tories who cut them in the first place.
So up stepped Luciana Berger, now speaking for the Lib Dems on health. “It is insulting to the public and all those who work in the NHS for Boris Johnson to celebrate the return of nurse bursaries”. And a potential recruitment problem: “By extending the immigration health surcharge and immigration visa fee to EU health professionals, more and more EU nurses will see little reason to stay here in the UK”. Oh dear, Tories!
The Guardian added its ninepence worth. “The plans to recruit 50,000 nurses quickly unravelled”. On those 18,500 “retained” nurses, there was “little detail as to exactly how the government would persuade these nurses to stay”. Also, “The government hopes to recruit 12,000 of the target from overseas”, but “The Conservative party said it was going to increase the surcharge from £400 to £625 a year for all non-EU migrant workers and extend it to all EU citizens who migrate to the UK after Brexit”.
The Tories can’t say how 40% of those nurses will be retained, they run the risk of pricing overseas recruits out of the system, and will make EU nurses second class citizens. But all of that will be either ignored or cheered by their press pals, so that’s all right, then.
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