Election 2015

Election 2015: Fewer nurses forecast for NHS - Labour

Generic anonymous nurse Image copyright Reuters

The number of NHS nurses in England is set to fall by almost 2,000 over the next four years according to government projections, Labour has said.

Accusing the Conservatives of having a "secret plan", Labour's Andy Burnham said fewer nurses would push hospitals "over the edge".

The health document Labour is basing its claims on says fewer nurses would be employed because of "affordability".

The Tories said the real threat to nurses was a Labour-SNP government.

The Liberal Democrats said neither Labour nor the Tories had a credible response to NHS "funding challenges".

The figures Labour are using are included in a document entitled Health Education England's (HEE) Workforce Plan for England 2015-16, and it predicts the NHS will have 1,966 fewer full-time nurses by 2019.

The reductions include 748 full-time-equivalent adult nursing posts, 131 in disability learning nursing and 1,552 in mental health nursing. Only paediatric nursing is set to increase - by 465 posts according to the figures.

At the same time, Labour said an analysis by the independent House of Commons Library of the latest NHS Workforce Census showed the number of nurses per million of the population had fallen from 5,324 in September 2009 to 5,172 in September 2014.

'Mansion tax'

Shadow health secretary Mr Burnham said: "Labour has set out a better plan to invest £2.5bn extra each year - on top of Tory spending plans - paid for by a mansion tax on homes worth £2m, to fund 20,000 more nurses and 8,000 more GPs."

He said the NHS could not "take five more years of David Cameron".

His party has said it wants to pay for extra nurses through its "Time to Care Fund", which will use money not only from a mansion tax, but also by cracking down on tax avoidance, and imposing levies on tobacco firms.

However, a Conservative spokesman said Labour's figures were based on out-of-date financial assumptions.

A spokesman said: "The only threat to nursing numbers is the threat of an Ed Miliband-SNP government that refuses to give the NHS the money it has said it needs.

"Under the Conservatives the number of nurses has increased by 6,900 and even this report shows that the number in training continues to rise."

The NHS has become a major battleground for the main political parties, with more announcements on the health service expected over the coming days.

The Conservatives have already pledged an extra £8bn a year for the NHS in England by 2020 if they win the election, which according to the Tories, "is the only way to ensure hospitals have the money they need to increase staff."

The £8m figure is one NHS England boss Simon Stevens cited as the funding gap between what the NHS currently receives and what it needs to implement his modernisation programme.

But Labour has accused the Tories of making an "unfunded" pledge.

The Lib Dems have also pledged £8bn for the NHS funded by scrapping some tax reliefs.

Liberal Democrat health minister Norman Lamb said only his party would ensure the NHS had the resources and staffing that it needed.

He said: "Labour are unwilling to commit the £8bn needed and the Tories refuse to say how they will find the money and will not be honest about the huge and ideological cuts that they will make to public services."

Subscribe to the BBC Election 2015 newsletter to get a round-up of the day's campaign news sent to your inbox every weekday afternoon.

More on this story