Boris Johnson has defended his general election promise of 50,000 more nurses following Labour claims it is “deceitful”.
The prime minister unveiled the pledge at the launch of the Conservatives’ election manifesto on Sunday.
But Labour insist it includes 19,000 nurses who the government hopes to dissuade from leaving the NHS.
They also claimed 12,000 nurses would be employed from overseas, leaving only 19,000 posts to be filled through new trainees who will benefit from the return of maintenance grants during their studies.
These bursaries, which Mr Johnson has vowed to reintroduce at a level of £5,000-£8,000 per year, were scrapped by former Conservative chancellor George Osborne.
The breakdown of the figures means almost 40% of the 50,000 figure are existing NHS nurses.
But Mr Johnson defended the promise as he spoke at the Tories’ Welsh manifesto launch on Monday.
Quizzed by Sky News correspondent Alex Rossi as to whether he was “trustworthy” over the pledge, the prime minister replied: “Yes, of course.
“There’ll be 50,000 more nurses directly as a result of the action of the investments that we are making.
“If we weren’t making these investments, there would not be 50,000 more nurses.
“I don’t think I can be clearer than that.”
The prime minister also claimed the “issue of trust” at the general election was “all about… the failure of politicians across parliament in the last three-and-a-half years, who have totally refused to honour the mandate of the people and deliver Brexit”.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) – the union which represents 435,000 nurses, midwives, healthcare assistants and other NHS staff – has called for “more detail” on the Tories’ pledge, despite describing it as “the right level of aspiration”.
Dame Donna Kinnair, the RCN’s general secretary, said: “The current shortage of 43,000 registered nurses can only be filled by registered nurses – with degree-level education.
“It is unfair on staff and inappropriate for patients to try to plug this gap with other staff.”
She added: “The emphasis must be firmly on growing the domestic workforce, as while we welcome nursing colleagues from around the world, an over-reliance on international recruitment is neither sustainable nor ethical in the long-term.”
Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “The Conservatives’ claim on nurses is frankly deceitful – the sums simply don’t add up.
“First we had Johnson’s fake 40 new hospitals, now we have his fake 50,000 extra nurses.
“Matt Hancock and Tory ministers forced through the abolition of the bursary, partly causing the nursing crisis afflicting our NHS today.
“The new damaging Tory nurses’ tax on European nurses will make it impossible to deliver the nurses our NHS needs.
“Labour will deliver over 50,000 new nurses through bringing back the bursary and allowing ethical international recruitment.”
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