NHS staff will receive a pay rise and tuition fees will be scrapped for student nurses and midwives if Labour wins the upcoming general election, according to its latest campaign promise.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth appeared at the Unison Health Conference in Liverpool on 26 April to give a speech condemning the Conservative government’s NHS policy. He described NHS staff as ‘undervalued, overworked and underpaid’ by the government.
Pay rises in the NHS were capped at 1% for the sixth year running in March, which is leading nursing groups – including the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) – to ask their members if they would consider strike action for higher pay.
Mr Ashworth said: ‘Our NHS staff are the very pride of Britain. Yet they are ignored, insulted, undervalued, overworked and underpaid by this Tory government. Not any more. Enough is enough. NHS staff have been taken for granted for too long by the Conservatives.
‘Cuts to pay and training mean hard-working staff are being forced from NHS professions and young people are being put off before they have even started. Now Brexit threatens the ability of health employers to recruit from overseas.
‘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 standard which England’s patients expect.’
The policy proposal was welcomed by the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), who criticised ‘short-sightedness’ from the current government.
Policy director Jon Skewes said: ‘These are very welcome commitments from the Labour Party. It recognises the effort, determination and commitment on the part of our hardworking midwives and other NHS staff to deliver the safest and best possible care for those using the NHS.
‘We would now want to see all parties making similar commitments to pay NHS staff fairly and staff and resource our NHS so that is can meet the demands being placed on it. However, it is always easy to promise the world in opposition and when campaigning in an election. Whoever is in power after the next election needs to invest in the NHS and invest in its staff.’
RCN chief executive Janet Davies also welcomed the proposal, saying: 'For too long, nursing staff have been undervalued and underpaid. The results can be seen in the spiralling number of vacant jobs, collapsing morale and services that are struggling to cope. A health service that works for patients must value its staff.
'We have long-campaigned to scrap the 1 per cent pay cap but nurses’ pay packets have been cut by 14 per cent in real-terms and so more must be done to help them catch up.
'It’s a political choice to increase investment in health and social care and we call on all political parties to go further and commit to the long-term funding that patients and services need.'
However, Conservative health minister Philip Dunne labelled the policy ‘nonsensical’ in his party’s official response to the announcement.
He said: ‘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.
‘We’ve protected and increased the NHS budget and got thousands more staff in hospitals. But all that’s at risk with Jeremy Corbyn’s nonsensical economic policies that would mean less money for the NHS.’