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Tory NHS doublespeak

It’s worth running a fine-tooth comb over NHS figures in Conservative manifesto

BORIS JOHNSON offers his personal “guarantee” on the first page of the Tory manifesto.

The first part of his signed guarantee is that he “will get Brexit done.” The second is a promise of “50,000 more nurses” for the NHS.

This shows that the Tories are worried about the NHS as an election issue. It also shows that you need to read the small print of any Tory guarantee, because everything about the nurses promise is misleading.

The first point, which has been fairly well covered by the press, is 18,500 of the “more” nurses are already working in the NHS.

Johnson is promising that the source of his new nurses is “recruitment and retention.”

Some 18,500 of these nurses come from ”retention” — which means nurses who don’t leave the NHS.

The Tories are claiming they will spend a bit more money on nurses’ conditions, so fewer will leave.

Rather than saying they will actually increase nurses, they are saying that they will repel 18,500 fewer nurses.

I have one car, so by Tory logic, if I don’t leave the keys lying around and let my car get stolen, I will actually have two cars.

The other side of the “50,000 new nurses” is about bursaries. The manifesto says that nursing students will be “receiving a £5,000-£8,000 annual maintenance grant every year during their course to help with their cost of living — and they won’t have to pay it back.”

The first thing here is the Tories are reinstating something they abolished in 2017. They are admitting they were wrong to squeeze nurses.

Johnson’s “guarantee” is to be less horrible to nurses in 2020 than he was in 2017. The second thing is that he is only promising to be half as horrible, because he is still squeezing thousands out of nurses.

Before 2009, all nurses were taught in nursing schools, with a mix of on-the-job and classroom teaching, on the model of an apprenticeship.

Nurses were paid a modest “training wage.” After then it became a degree-only profession: the nursing schools moved into universities.

However, nurses were not charged university fees — these were paid by the NHS — and they got a small bursary, so the payment model looked the same.

Then in 2017 the Tories both cancelled the bursaries and started charging nurses university fees.  

So student nurses had to borrow £27,000 from the Student Loans Company for fees, and at least another £24,000 to live on while they studied.

The nurse who cares for you, or even keeps you alive, should, in Tory thought, pay for the privilege.

They should get into tens of thousands of pounds of debt so they can help the sick. The standard justification for charging university fees is that people with degrees might earn a lot in the future: but nobody pretended this was true for nurses, they just charged them the fees anyway.

The Tories were the big villain in this unhealthy NHS scheme. But a supporting role goes to the heads of the nursing schools: they pushed for nurses to be charged fees, because they thought this would bring more money to their departments so they could empire-build.

What kind of academic looks at nursing students and thinks “I could squeeze cash out of them”? As it turns out, the top ones do.

So back to the Tories’ bursary scheme. This is a U-turn, but only a partial one. Johnson is offering £15-24,000 in bursaries for living costs, but he still wants to charge nurses £27,000 in student fees.

It’s a sick approach to healthcare. It’s also worth thinking why he has made this partial U-turn. In part it is because, since imposing fees and taking bursaries, the number of student nurses has gone down.

But it is also because nurses themselves have protested against the change. Unison and the People’s Assembly in particular organised demonstrations against the change.

Johnson is only offering half a loaf back to nurses after taking a whole loaf from them. At the same time, even under Tory plans, protesting nurses have won £24,000 for each future student nurse.



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