Tories to focus on austerity-reversing nursing pledge

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will hold a reception for NHS nurses at Number 10 Credit: PA/Parliament

The Tories are to focus on plans to restore bursaries for student nurses in a reversal of its austerity measures as the party seeks to hold onto its new voters.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is to hold a Downing Street reception for NHS nurses on Wednesday as his Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, announces the move.

The return of the payments of up to £8,000-a-year-was one of the central measures of the Tory general election manifesto unveiled last month.

It formed part of a plan for 50,000 additional nurses for England intended to underline the party’s commitment to the NHS.

But critics have noted that about 19,000 would come through the retention of existing staff rather than new recruits.

Meanwhile, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) criticised the appointment of Professor Swaran Singh to lead a review into prejudice within the Tory party.

MCB secretary general Harun Khan said the appointment of the former commissioner of the Equality and Human Rights Commission “does not instil huge confidence” in the process.

“We were promised an independent inquiry into Islamophobia specifically. Now we have a review that aims to broaden the scope to examine discrimination more generally,” Mr Khan added.

“A laudable aim if it were not for the fact that the Conservative Party is afflicted with a particular type of bigotry which it refuses to countenance.”

Mr Hancock is to make the Tories’ nursing announcement in a Westminster speech for the Policy Exchange think-tank.

Downing Street said annual payments of £5,000 would be available to all student nurses – as well as some allied health professionals – from September next year, with a further £3,000 for specialist disciplines, such as mental health, which are hard to recruit.

At the same time, the Government confirmed it was pressing on with its review of the NHS pensions issue which lead some senior doctors to turn down extra shifts because they were being hit by hefty tax bills.

NHS England has previously announced special arrangements for 2019/20, meaning no doctor in England will be worse off as a result of taking on extra shifts this winter.

The Tories won their 80-strong majority by snatching dozens of former Labour strongholds across the North and the Midlands.

Mr Johnson said: “I have heard loud and clear that the priority of the British people is to focus on the NHS – and to make sure this treasured institution has everything it needs to deliver world-class care.

“There can be no doubting our commitment to the NHS and over the coming months we will bring forward further proposals to transform this great country.”

Royal College of Nursing general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair welcomed the grant as “a first victory for the campaign that our student nurses are running”.

“This announcement will hopefully encourage more people to apply to a nursing degree by the mid-January deadline,” she added.

“In the run up to the Budget, we continue to call for our students to not pay tuition fees up front. Any barriers for people wanting to enter nursing must be removed.”

Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth welcomed the Tory reversal, but called for further funding.

“While it is good to see that they have U-turned on their terrible policy position, nurses have called for additional funding to cover tuition fees too, not just living costs as the Tories promised in their manifesto,” he said.

The Government is expected to introduce the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (Wab) in the Commons on Thursday following the State Opening of Parliament and the Queen’s Speech.

MPs will then vote on the principle of the Bill – ratifying Mr Johnson’s Brexit deal with Brussels in October – at second reading on Friday before the House rises for Christmas.

Ministers want the legislation to clear all its stages in the Commons and the Lords in January to enable Britain to leave with a deal in place at the end of the month as planned.

However, the Bill has been controversially reworked to “legally prohibit” any extension of the transition period which then follows beyond the end of 2020.