Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has announced a 25% increase in nurse training places to boost numbers of home-grown NHS staff as Britain leaves the European Union (EU).

The additional 5,000 places will bring the number of undergraduate study opportunities to 25,850 in 2018/19, about 15,000 up from 2015.

Mr Hunt called it the “the biggest expansion of nurse training in the history of the NHS” as he also unveiled a series of further policies to boost NHS staff.

Giving his speech to the Conservative conference in Manchester, Mr Hunt announced that an extra 5,500 nursing associates will get training on the job to qualify as full registered nurses via a new apprenticeship path.

The Department of Health said the moves were designed to “reduce the reliance on expensive agency nurses and overseas recruits”.

Where NHS land is sold for housing, Mr Hunt said NHS staff would be given priority for affordable housing, benefiting up to 3,000 families.

Existing NHS staff will also benefit from a new flexible working offer, he said.

Elsewhere in his speech, Mr Hunt offered assurances to the 150,000 EU workers in the health and social care system.

(Peter Byrne/PA)
(Peter Byrne/PA)

“You do a fantastic job, we want you to stay and we’re confident you will be able to stay with the same rights you have now, so you can continue being a highly-valued part of our NHS and social-care family,” he said.

Mr Hunt told party activists he wanted to make the NHS the safest healthcare system in the world.

He used digital slides in his speech to illustrate the links between good and outstanding hospitals and those with a budget surplus, and those with poorer ratings which had recorded a budget deficit.

Leadership was most important about turning under-performing hospitals around, Mr Hunt said, adding greater transparency had also been instrumental in raising standards.

Jeremy Hunt
Jeremy Hunt wants to move from a blame culture to a learning culture in the NHS (Neil Hall/PA)

He said the NHS was recently rated the best and safest healthcare system in the world by an American think tank, adding: “But – and there is a ‘but’ – we still have those 150 avoidable deaths every single week.

“Twice a week, somewhere in the NHS, we leave a foreign object in someone’s body.

“Three times a week we operate on the wrong part of someone’s body.

“Four times a week a claim is made for a baby born brain damaged.

“We may be the safest in the world, but what that really means is that healthcare everywhere needs to change.”