For what it’s worth, I think that the new proposal from the Conservatives is actually rather good. It entails each newborn and their mother having the services of a maternity nurse for the first week after leaving hospital. According to the Observer, it would cost ‘at least £150m a year’. I think a closer figure is £212m per year – my workings are at the end of this post. Whether or not it survives, I think the Conservatives – and I mean this genuinely – are to be congratulated on putting forward an ambitious, policy proposal. I hope that full, detailed costings and implementations are brought forward.
The advantages, to my mind, are obvious. It may be that the money could be better spent elsewhere or could be targeted within this area or somesuch but the basic principle – that intervention by the state in the earliest parts of life can have a profound, positive impact on later life – is sound. This applies to education and what might be called ‘good citizenship’ as well as health. What will be interesting is its effects on the parties. The traditionalist part of the Conservatives (‘old Tory paternalists’) might like something that ‘supports the family’ while the small government side will probably scream in pain. On the other side of the gangway, Labour’s front bench will oppose it on grounds of cost, being a gimmick and because you can’t concede anything while in government. I will be very interested to see what the CPAG say and how Labour reacts to it.
It is possible that the policy is a gimmick; if it is, it will be forgotten in short order, slightly damage the perception of politics and occasionally be brought out by Labour to hit the Conservatives. I hope not as the policy is, at least, worth discussing. Labour have nothing to lose by entering into a debate about it. To do so is statesmanlike; if the idea is sound, it can be implemented in a bipartisan manner with input from both sides; if it is not, it can be used in argument against the Tories.
Does anyone know if the Lib Dems have said anything about it?
This article was cross-posted at Liberal Conspiracy.
According to the National Statistical Office (FM1 no. 35 pp1, PDF), there were 669,601 live births in England and Wales in 2006. If each of those received six hours’ nursing care a day for, say, five days after leaving hospital, we would have a total number of working hours of 20,088,030 per year. If we assume that a maternity nurse (or full-time equivalent) works forty hours a week and have the statutory amount of holiday, each nurse would work for 1,888 hours per year. Assuming that there is currently no slack in the system (ie no nurses can be redeployed) and that there is no slack in the future system (ie it will be possible to provide perfect coverage with no illness, absence etc.), we would need to recruit 10,640 nurses. Outside London, the annual pay for a general nurse with three years’ experience is £19,935, giving a total gross salary bill of £212,108,400 per year. That’s before you add in administration, medicines, liability insurance, training, retraining, mileage and so on.