Weekly political news round up – 6th October 2017

Overview

This week, the Conservative Party conference has seen an announcement from the Health Secretary of an additional 5,000 nurse training places next year, and a troubled speech from the Prime Minister which has reignited calls for her to resign. The Welsh Government has also published its draft budget for 2018/19; and a contract for children’s services in Devon with Virgin Care has been extended.

Health Secretary pledges 25% increase in nurse training places

The Health Secretary has revealed plans to increase the number of training places for student nurses by 5,000, or 25%, in 2018/19 at the Conservative Party conference. The places would be on top of the 10,000 extra places which the Government committed to by the end of 2020/21, which would equate to an additional 15,500 training places between 2018 and 2021. It is expected that £35 million of new government funding which will be confirmed in the Autumn Budget. The announcement came as an investigation by the Nursing Times found that universities have not been able to make additional nursing training available places this year because the funding to do so was only made available in August.

The Government’s accompanying press release highlighted that 5,000 additional nursing associates will also be trained through apprenticeships in 2018 and 7,500 in 2019, who can then work towards being a fully qualified nurse. Jeremy Hunt said that the increase would represent “the biggest increase in nurse training places in the history of the NHS”, and announced additional policies to improve NHS staff retention including “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.”

Conservative Party conference: May’s leadership threatened

The Prime Minister’s authority has been threatened following her speech at the Conservative Party conference this week, which was beset by a prank and difficulties with her voice. While May announced a review of mental health legislation and additional funding for 25,000 council houses over five years, the problems with the speech overshadowed these, and some accused her of pursuing a “Labour-lite” agenda and lacking policy ideas. The difficulties have resulted in renewed calls for her to resign, yet several members of the Cabinet, including Amber Rudd and Michael Gove have defended her leadership.

It has emerged that the group of backbenchers reported to be preparing to call for May to resign has been led by the former party chairman Grant Shapps. Shapps claims that 30 MPs have agreed they would push for her to quit, but this falls short of the 48 MPs needed to trigger a leadership challenge. There are concerns that another leadership contest would disrupt Brexit negotiations and jeopardise their progress onto trade talks in the coming month – and a YouGov poll has indicated that voters do not overwhelmingly support the Prime Minister standing down now, with 39% thinking she should remain and 38% thinking she should go.

Welsh Government publishes draft budget

The Welsh Government has published its draft budget for 2018/19, which includes a £450 million increase for the NHS. Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government, Mark Drakeford, said this was not a “generous settlement”, but that it couldn’t be increased because of the UK government’s “flawed and foolish policies of austerity”. The additional funding will be split into £230 million in 2018/19 and £220 million in 2019/20, but this will only represent a 1% increase when accounting for inflation.

The Welsh Local Government Association responded to the budget by stating that councils will need to increase council tax by 5% to fund the budgets commitments. The Health Foundation praised the funding allocation while highlighting that savings of 1% per year will need to be maintained “to allow for maximum funding for long term transformation and sustainability.” It also pointed to the pressure to lift the NHS pay cap in Wales, stating that this it will “substantially increase the pressure on existing budgets” unless the UK government provides additional funding.

Virgin Care given extension of Devon children’s services contract

Virgin Care’s contract to provide children’s services in Devon has been extended by the local CCGs and Devon County Council .The contract was due to finish in March 2018, but has been extended by a year to allow procurement of a new service for up to ten years. The contract provides services for mental health, school nursing, health visitors and care for disabled children and young people, and has been subject to a consultation which took views from 800 service users, parents and professionals.

The extension to the contract is worth £35 million, indicating that if a new contract is awarded for up to ten years as suggested, it could be worth hundreds of millions of pounds. The new service could be provided for more than five days a week; offer a “locality based “integrated front door”” to a range of services; and provide a rapid triage process for referrals by a coordinator supported by professional expertise.