Nicky Morgan, the culture secretary, said the additional nurses would be in place “if you look in 10 years’ time” and struggled to explain how the government would convince current nurses not to leave.
It comes after the Tories were criticised when it emerged that 18,500 of the 50,000 extra nurses promised in their election manifesto would not be new recruits but simply existing staff that the government will try to persuade to stay in the NHS. Labour said the claim was “fake” and “frankly deceitful”.
Ms Morgan’s further suggestion that the pledge will not to be met in the next five years is likely to fuel claims that the Conservatives are making manifesto pledges that they are not planning to deliver in the next parliament,
Mr Johnson has repeatedly claimed that his government will build 40 new hospitals, despite the government providing money to upgrade only six hospitals before 2025, with further investment in others to follow at a later date.
Forced to defend the government’s pledge on nurses, Ms Morgan told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “There will be overall – and we are very, very clear on this – 50,000 more nurses if you look in 10 years’ time than there are today.”
Insisting that the nurses would be “new” even though 18,500 of them already work in the NHS, she said: “I think it’s realistic to say we’ve got highly skilled staff who we do not want to leave. If we are able to persuade them and to encourage them to stay, that is good news for nursing care in this country.”
But speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today, Ms Morgan appeared unable to explain how the government planned to convince thousands of nurses not to leave the NHS, claiming only that recruiting more staff would help persuade existing employees to stay.
She said: “Well I think obviously we’re getting more extra recruits in as well … One of the issues about workload is, as you have more people leaving – and the NHS is a huge employer and is there is an issue with turnover of staff – that part of that is making sure you have enough staff overall to relieve some of the pressures and demands and the frustrations that I think many nurses will feel at not being able to do the job they want to do. You’ve got to tackle it from lots of different angles.
“Matt Hancock [the health secretary] is absolutely working on that with the NHS and with the chief nurse and others to listen to why people say they are leaving.”
She added: “I know, as I say, from my time in education, when we started to tackle workload pressures, actually that has made a difference in terms of retention of teachers and I’m sure that will be the same in other public services too.”
The Conservatives also faced criticism for not including a policy social care in their manifesto, despite Mr Johnson having promised on the steps of Downing Street to tackle the social care crisis “with a clear plan we have prepared”.
Asked why there was no policy on social care in the manifesto, Ms Morgan insisted that Mr Johnson would “provide the leadership to build the cross-party consensus to get this done”.
She said: “I think there has been work going on but it’s not in a stage yet in order to be launched, and I think that actually what you see overall in the manifesto, and I think quite right, because the second part of our campaign is about unleashing Britain’s potential.
“But it’s about saying actually we’re going to do this in a responsible, One Nation way, we’re not going to make lots of unfunded, uncosted promises, we’re going to listen to what people are saying to us are the priorities and put in long-term solutions rather than coming up with ideas that then don’t stand the test of time.”
She added: “I know that the previous government had been working on a plan, it was perhaps something that the prime minister was aware of, but as I say, it’s not there in form to be included in the manifesto.”
It came after Sir Andrew Dilnot, who led a government review into social care, said the Conservatives’ pledges on the issue were “very vague”.
He told Today: “They’re really not very specific. Four months ago we had the prime minister standing on the steps of Downing Street saying that he would fix the crisis in social care once and for all ‘with a clear plan we have prepared’ and then yesterday we were told ‘we will commit to urgently seek a cross-party consensus’, so very vague … It’s striking that there is no clear plan here.”
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