Election 2015

Reality Check: Can 1,000 more nurses start training?

a nurse Image copyright Getty Images

As part of their plan to "rescue" the NHS, Labour have pledged to employ an extra 20,000 NHS nurses by 2020.

Today Ed Miliband said his party wanted to make early progress towards that target and, if elected on 7 May, would increase trainee numbers by 1,000 this year.

Every year, Health Education England, the agency which is responsible for training current and new NHS staff in England, outlines how many nurse places it will fund for the coming academic year. The government covers the cost of nurse training places, which means student nurses pay no tuition fees.

This graph shows how many nurse training places have been funded in England since 2009-10 (the earliest data available):

Since 2013 you have needed a university degree to become a nurse and so almost all nursing applications are processed via Ucas (the University College and Admissions Service). Ucas data tells us that demand for places has consistently outstripped supply (although that's the case for a lot of university courses). But the Royal College of Nursing say that the NHS in England needs more nurses, and that - despite an overall increase in nursing numbers - some specialties now have fewer staff.

To that end, Labour want an extra 1,000 nurses to enter training in September this year. To achieve this, a Labour government would have to find the money for the extra places almost immediately after taking office. Then - in theory - they could ask Health Education England (and its equivalents in the devolved nations) to distribute this money to universities. (Health Education England has already made its allocations for this year, and it's unclear how long another funding round would take.)

Finally, while students can apply for university courses up until the September start dates, they wouldn't have much time to apply for these extra places. The Council of Deans of Health, which represents all UK university faculties training nurses, said it would be "a stretch" to recruit students at short notice, but if places were made available they would do their best to fill them.

Ed Miliband said Labour's first budget would introduce a "mansion tax" on homes worth more than £2m and a new levy on tobacco firms. Revenue from these policies would start coming in throughout 2015-16. A Labour spokesman confirmed to the BBC that the party would use some of the money to pay for the extra training places.

All in all, the timetable - for funding and recruitment - looks very tight.

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