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Jeremy Hunt vows: We will train 25% more UK nurses

Jeremy Hunt is pictured arriving on the second day of the Party Conference

The Health Secretary will today announce a record increase in training places for homegrown nurses as the Tories battle to patch up shortfalls in the NHS.

Jeremy Hunt will tell the conference he wants a 25 per cent increase in the number of degree training places – equivalent to 5,000 extra.

But, controversially, Mr Hunt will also announce an extra 5,500 ‘nursing associates’ every year from 2019. These untrained staff – branded cut-price nurses – will be given the power to deliver life-saving drugs in hospital.

A new apprenticeship scheme will enable them to become fully qualified registered nurses after two years of learning on the job.

Critics fear the nursing associates will be used by hospitals to replace qualified nurses – who have spent at least three years at university and usually have several years of experience on wards – compromising patient safety.

Mr Hunt will also use his conference speech to announce a new scheme whereby existing NHS staff will benefit from a new flexible working offer.

They will also be offered first refusal on affordable homes built on surplus NHS land.

Mr Hunt said: ‘The NHS will be looking after a million more over-75s in just a decade, so we need to jump-start nurse training.

‘This represents the biggest increase in nurse training places in the history of the NHS.

‘And we will make sure that many of the additional places go to healthcare assistants training on hospital sites, allowing us to expand our nurse workforce with some highly experienced people already working on the NHS frontline.

‘We will also improve retention rates amongst our current workforce with new flexible working arrangements to be made available to all NHS staff, and a new right of first refusal for affordable housing built on NHS property. Combined with the 25 per cent increase in medical school places [for doctors] announced last year, this will transform the ability of our NHS to cope with the pressures ahead.’

Jeremy Hunt will tell the conference he wants a 25 per cent increase in the number of degree training places ¿ equivalent to 5,000 extra

Jeremy Hunt will tell the conference he wants a 25 per cent increase in the number of degree training places – equivalent to 5,000 extra

But Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said Mr Hunt was using students to ‘plug the gaps’ in provision.

She said: ‘Significant increases to training numbers is welcome – we desperately need more nurses. However, they must be educated to the highest standards. We are concerned at the risk of students plugging the gaps in the current workforce at the expense of quality patient care and their own learning experience.’

The NHS is severely short of nurses and figures last year revealed that as many as one in ten posts are empty – equivalent to 23,500 full-time staff.

This largely came about because the Government slashed the number of training places between 2010 and 2013, leading to a shortfall of nurses coming up from university. But at the same time demand has been rising, as the population is ageing and hospitals are treating many more elderly patients in need of dedicated care.

Many hospitals are now having to hire nurses from abroad or spend up to £2,000 a shift on agency staff.

The two-year nursing associate course offers a new path into the profession for those who want to earn and learn rather than study full-time through a traditional university degree.

The first wave of 2,000 nursing associates were deployed on to wards in January to start a two-year course.

They are working across 11 trusts, including Great Ormond Street, Central Manchester University Hospitals, and Nottingham University Hospitals.

Eventually they may be rolled out to all hospitals in England.

Mr Hunt said his measures were part of the Government’s commitment to widen participation, improve flexibility and strengthen social mobility within the NHS workforce.

Boosting the supply of home-grown nurses will also help reduce the reliance on expensive agency nurses and overseas recruits.