Conservatives promise ‘world class’ public services

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The Conservative party has pledged to provide 50,000 more nurses over the next five years, promising “world class” public services as the dividend of a strong economy if it wins the December 12 election.

The party also promised to protect the “triple lock”, under which the state pension rises by average earnings, inflation or 2.5 per cent — whichever is highest — reversing pledges made in its 2017 manifesto.

While Boris Johnson’s party set aside £750m to begin delivering a promised extra 20,000 police officers, and a £14bn funding package for schools and young people, it was the taxpayer-funded National Health Service that was the clear focus of the prime minister’s public policy pitch to voters.

Most eye-catching was the new pledge to expand nursing numbers by 50,000, from a baseline level of 280,000 full time equivalent posts. The party said the drive would be backed by £725m a year of new money, with additional funding for salaries from NHS England, taking the total to over £1bn a year.

Under the Tory plan about 12,500 nurses are to be recruited from overseas, a process eased by a new NHS Visa; 14,000 will be new undergraduate and postgraduate students and 5,000 will come through new degree apprenticeships. However, the remaining 18,500 will be existing nurses persuaded to remain in, or return to, the NHS — prompting Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, to brand the pledge “a deceit”.

Dame Donna Kinnair, general secretary and chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said more detail was needed about how, and from where, the extra nurses were to be found. An over-reliance on international recruitment was “neither sustainable nor ethical in the long-term,” Dame Donna added.

Nigel Edwards, chief executive of the Nuffield Trust, warned that such recruitment targets “have been missed repeatedly in the past. We don’t see any way to get this many more nurses without a surge in migration beyond even what is assumed,” he added.

Critics also lamented the absence of a plan to solve the social care crisis. The manifesto promised an additional £1bn a year to stabilise the system but otherwise called for a cross-party consensus to find a long-term solution.

Mr Edwards bemoaned “yet more unnecessary delay on social care, without even a policy proposal as a starting point for serious reform”.

Jennifer Dixon, chief executive of the Health Foundation, added: “We have a promise that no one will have to sell their home to pay for their care but no idea who would foot the bill instead. We needed a plan of action but all we’ve got is more words.”

Separately, the party sought to retain support from older people with its decision to back the triple lock and pensioner benefits, such as free bus passes “ensuring older people have the security and dignity they deserve”.

The Tories did not make an explicit pledge to restore universal free TV licences for over 75s, however. From next summer, the BBC will only fund free licences for those receiving pension credit.

The party also pledged to hold an urgent review within the first 30 days of the election into the NHS pensions problem that has led to thousands of doctors turning down extra shifts for fear of high tax bills. The Conservatives said they would work with doctors’ unions to “solve” the “taper problem,” which has led to tens of thousands of patients waiting longer for surgery and treatment.


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