Tories’ election pledge to boost NHS nurse workforce puts emphasis on retention

Conservatives have resisted calls to reinstate the nursing student bursary in England
Prime minister Boris Johnson speaks at a podium, holding aloft the Conservatives' 2019 election manifesto

Conservatives have resisted calls to reinstate the nursing student bursary in England

Picture: Getty

The Conservative Party general election manifesto promises £5,000 maintenance grants for nursing students and a 50,000 increase in the number of NHS nurses in England by 2025.

A large portion of those 50,000 nurses would be new recruits, but would be the result, the Tories say, of improved nurse retention, as well as some people returning to the profession.

The Conservatives claim their figure would break down as:

  • 12,500 nurses (25%) recruited from abroad, through a new ‘NHS visa’.
  • 18,500 nurses (37%) remaining in the profession or returning to work 'through improved career development opportunities and enhanced retention'.
  • 14,000 graduates and undergraduates (28%) taking extra university training places.
  • 5,000 (10%) joined an 'expanded' nurse apprenticeship scheme.

Maintenance grant for nursing students

The last Conservative government abolished the nursing bursary for students in 2017. Now the party is saying it would pay all students £5,000 in maintenance grant, if elected; those in regions or disciplines struggling to recruit, such as mental health, would attract enhanced funding, up to £8,000. 

The party will not reinstate the nursing bursary, meaning students would still have to pay their tuition fees, which are currently capped at £9,250 a year.

Tuition fees, on top of living costs are ‘too big barrier to many’ would be nurses 

RCN general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair said the combination of tuition fees and living costs was too big a barrier to many and both funding areas needed to be addressed.  

'Forcing would-be nurses to pay tuition fees has demonstrably failed,’ she said.

'With this announcement, Boris Johnson has not brought back the bursary – he is pledging to return one element of the package and keep the costly tuition fees in place.'

The Liberal Democrats, Green Party and Labour Party have all said their governments would reinstate the nursing student bursary, with Labour saying it would add 24,000 to the workforce in England in the next five years.

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