Health care will be a hot topic among political parties over the coming months as they attempt to secure the public’s vote. Alistair Kleebauer reports

Labour draws up NHS battle lines as general election looms nearer A Labour government would recruit 20,000 extra nurses, which would include 10,000 more newly trained nurses. Other pledges include joined up services from home to hospital and introducing measures such as tackling stress and lifting morale to boost staff wellbeing, the party’s leader Ed Miliband has said. The future of the health service will be one of the key battlegrounds in May’s general election and Mr Miliband has set out his ten-year vision for the NHS. The opposition leader committed to invest an extra £2.5 billion for a new NHS Time to Care Fund. He also

promised another 20,000 NHS nurses, half of them newly trained, with plans to boost the number of training commissions from September.

Health pledges

Another 8,000 GPs and 3,000 more midwives will also be recruited, as well as 5,000 homecare workers, who will be paid for from the annual £2.5 billion fund drawn from cracking down on tax avoidance, a mansion tax and a levy on tobacco firms. The party also wants to repeal the government’s ‘privatisation laws’ (the Health and Social Care Act)

and ‘recommit to the pay review body’ process. Other pledges include guaranteeing GP appointments in 48 hours and cancer test results within a week; prioritising investment in young people’s mental health; and introducing limits on the amount of sugar, fat and salt in food marketed to children. Nursing Standard quizzed Mr Miliband and shadow health secretary Andy Burnham on these pledges, during their visit to George Eliot Hospital in Nuneaton, Warwickshire last week. Some of Labour’s key promises for the health service are outlined below.

Nurse numbers


An eye-catching commitment in Labour’s ten-year plan is the promise of 20,000 extra nurses, particularly when set against Health Education England commissioning an extra 827 pre-registration places in 2015/16. Labour says that thousands fewer nurses have been trained under the coalition government compared to 2010/11 levels, and it pledges to provide more than 10,000 training places. Mr Burnham told Nursing Standard: ‘Many trusts are facing spiralling agency staff bills and bills for overseas recruitment. The NHS basically is trapped now without the staff it needs. So we would immediately commission more places for next September.’ Mr Miliband added that Labour would achieve an average 21,000 training places a year if voted into power. The coalition government is developing a degree level apprenticeship targeted at bringing healthcare assistants into nursing and Mr Burnham said Labour would also use apprenticeships to reach their staffing target. In response to Labour’s pledge on nursing numbers, RCN general secretary Peter Carter said: ‘Whoever is running the NHS after the general election will need to get to grips with the serious task of plugging the gap in the workforce, without being over-reliant on nurses from overseas. ‘We need to be training more nurses now to be able to cope with rising demand in health and social care.’

After a dispute lasting ten months, health secretary Jeremy Hunt last week offered to give staff up to band 8b a 1 per cent pay rise. The offer was made less than 48 hours before a planned 12-hour strike and unions are now consulting members before deciding whether to accept the offer. The Labour party has pledged to recommit to the independent pay process and not to ignore its recommendations like current ministers did in the last pay round. Labour has also promised to have a more ‘consistent’ approach to negotiations on pay and pensions. Regarding social care, in a speech at the King’s Fund think tank in London, Mr Burnham said the party would ‘tackle exploitation in the care sector’ by banning zero-hour contracts. The shadow health secretary said firms will no longer be able to operate business models that rely on zero-hour contracts. He then went on to say that a service provided on a ‘below-minimum-wage, zero-hours basis will never be able to provide the quality we would want for our own parents or aspire to for everyone’s parents’. He added: ‘This will begin to change the culture of social care in England and value those who work in it.’

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Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham (left) and Labour leader Ed Miliband talk to staff during last week’s visit to George Eliot Hospital

A ‘staff champion’

Care in the home

A nationwide NHS staff champion to tackle bullying in the health service will be introduced, according to Ed Miliband. The staff champion’s responsibilities could include requiring all organisations to put in place health and wellbeing strategies and supporting staff in raising concerns about safety or malpractice. Mr Miliband added: ‘In this hospital [George Eliot in Nuneaton] one of the great things about it is the sense of a team ethic, but where that does not happen, you want someone who can draw attention to that and talk about the culture of the workplace.’ The ‘staff champion’ would also hold the government to account. ‘We are going to put our money where our mouth is and say we are going to have a staff champion who is going to report on morale, culture and whether people feel listened to,’ said Mr Miliband. ‘It is holding all stakeholders to account on behalf of the staff.’ Healthcare staff will also have access to ‘conflict resolution training’ where appropriate, such as the prevention and management of abuse by patients. Labour will require NHS employers to have systems in place for staff to record violent incidents and it plans to work with the Crown Prosecution Service to ensure criminal assaults are punished.

District nurses will have a ‘huge role’ to play in integrated care for patients in their own homes under a Labour government, Mr Burnham said. The shadow health secretary said the party wants to fulfil the vision of one team around the patient outlined in Sir John Oldham’s report on whole person care. Mr Burnham said the district nurse, along with the GP, would be at the centre of a ‘very highly integrated team’ including occupational therapists, physiotherapists, dietitians and other healthcare professionals. Families should get one person to contact and therefore provide ‘a more accountable framework’. Mr Burnham added: ‘Under this government we have seen cuts to community nursing, general practice, mental health and social care. Cutting all that preventive stuff has left hospitals under greater pressure. ‘You have got to turn that around and send the cavalry in, if I can put it that way, to support district nurses.’ Labour believes its new ‘year of care’ budget will end what it says is a growing practice of care workers having only 15 minutes to spend on home visits with vulnerable, older people. The party would also introduce checks to identify fall hazards in older people’s homes. GPs will prioritise those older people most in need of home checks by using software to identify those at risk of hospitalisation.

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Labour draws up NHS battle lines as general election looms nearer.

A Labour government would recruit 20,000 extra nurses, which would include 10,000 more newly trained nurses. Other pledges include joined up services ...
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