Rachel Reeves has challenged Jeremy Hunt to find money for a Labor plan to double the number of training places for doctors and nurses – indicating that he said he wanted to “undercut” opposition policy just two weeks before becoming chancellor.
The Shadow Chancellor said NHS shortages are causing 1.5 million people in need of treatment to say their jobs are suffering, with new analysis showing it is costing the economy around £700m a year.
Ahead of this month’s spring budget, Reeves wrote to Hunt urging him to adopt Labor’s NHS staffing plan, which advocates doubling medical school places to 15,000; doubling the number of eligible district nurses from 700 to 1,400 annually; training 5,000 new community nurses a year; and creating an additional 10,000 clinical placements for nurses and midwives each year. The NHS has a vacancy rate of 10%, or 133,000 positions.
She highlighted Hunt’s comments in his weekly patient safety email on 28 September last year, just 15 days before he became chancellor, saying: “Despite my obvious political alliances, it would be negligent of me not to mention the fact that Labor has committed to double the number of medical school places and hire additional health and community nurses.
“Increasing medical school space was something the select committee called for in its workforce report, and I very much hope the government will also embrace it on the basis that wise governments always undercut the best ideas of their opponents.”
The NHS is currently developing its own staffing plan which, in draft form, sees doubling the number of doctor and nurse training places, but the Treasury has yet to commit to increasing funding. The Times reported last week that the Treasury opposed the scale of the proposal because of the cost.
In her letter, Reeves said a decade of Conservative rule and the pandemic had left the NHS “not only on its knees but on its face”.
She said Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures suggest more than 1.5 million people feel that waiting for NHS treatment is negatively impacting their work, with nearly a quarter of these – 363,000 people – reporting in resulting in a reduction in working time.
Reeves said one in 10 people said they had stopped working altogether – around 174,000 – and 9% reported being on long-term sick leave – around 142,000.
Further analysis of the survey shows that this could cost the Treasury £700m a year and employers £14m a week.
“Now that you are in your role as chancellor, you have the opportunity to adopt this labor policy to the benefit not only of our NHS but also of our economic growth. The growth of our economy is crucial to raise living standards, create good jobs across the country and lead the world again,” she said.
When Hunt was Secretary of Health, he increased the number of medical school places from 6,000 to 7,500 and oversaw the establishment of five new medical schools in England. During his tenure as chairman of the Commons health and social care select committee, he drafted a report last July warning that the NHS was facing “the worst labor crisis in history”.