Election 2023: National's Christopher Luxon won't back down over nursing claim the Health Minister is calling out

National is being accused of being misleading by picking and choosing what numbers they use to describe the nursing shortage.

Leader Christopher Luxon says thousands have left nursing - but official numbers show the opposite.

Luxon was at a medical centre in Auckland on Monday checking the pulse of emergency care.

After yesterday releasing National's plan to wipe $4500 off nurses' student loans each year for five years if they keep working in New Zealand after graduating, Luxon was especially keen to know more.

But what's happening with Luxon's own nurse numbers?

He said in an announcement on Sunday that, "in the last five years, almost 19,000 nurses have left the public health system". 

Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall said: "I don't understand why he put those figures out."

Luxon said it's the "Government's own number". 

"We asked how many nurses have left the public healthcare system."

National actually asked the Health Minister for the number of nurses who'd left employment regardless of whether they were re-employed.

The table he got back showed that since 2019, 18,670 nurses have left employment. 

But there was also a big caveat, saying it includes those who'd switched nursing jobs but stayed in the industry.

"I was very clear that this didn't reflect the number of nurses leaving the system so it's extremely disingenuous," said Dr Verrall. 

Luxon said: "If she now wants to couch her number and qualify the number, so be it. But the reality is we've had 17,000 nurses give up their nursing practise certificate since 2019."

Technically he's correct, that many have given up their practising certificates. But it's half the story.

Last year the total number of registered nurses actually increased by 4200 thanks to new and migrant nurses. In fact, since 2019 the number of practising nurses has increased by almost 12,000.

National was given these numbers a month ago.

"You can't trust National on health," said Dr Verrall. "They didn't do anything to improve the position of nurses for their pay while they were in Government and now they're using misleading statistics to try beat up a scare campaign."

Luxon said: "I don't care, you can debate numbers, but if you're debating numbers you're having the wrong conversation because that's not the conversation that's helping nurses."

Even with an increasing workforce of nurses, New Zealand still has a crippling shortage which is burning nurses out and impacting on Kiwis' care.

But National has sullied a debate over their otherwise constructive and sound policy by being misleading.