THE truth will set you free. So the Bible told us long ago. Whether you are religious or not, the saying still bears scrutiny.

Which is more, I am sorry to report, than can be said for our winter election.

Over the last couple of weeks we seem to have witnessed a crazy slalom between claim and counter-claim, truth and opinion.

The NHS, in particular, has been a favourite battleground, with each political party wishing to convince us of the true state of this essential institution.

One issue has cropped up repeatedly: nurse numbers.

According to Nursing Times, based on official NHS numbers, nurse vacancies in NHS England have increased to a record high, with 12% of full-time equivalent registered nurse posts in the provider sector unfilled. This equates to 43,617 missing staff.

That means 5,265 in the North-East and Yorkshire.

However, the actual number of missing nurses “is likely to be much higher as the data does not include vacancies outside the NHS such as in social care and general practice”.

Clearly there is a massive issue.

One worsened by thousands of nurses from EU countries returning home because of uncertainty about their future caused by Brexit.

So what solutions are on offer?

It seems only fair to allow the government the first word, as they have been running the NHS for the last ten years.

The Conservative manifesto promises “50,000 more nurses” for the NHS, based on spending between £759m and £879m a year from 2020/21 to 2023/24 on “nurse recruitment, training and retention”.

You might think that’s straightforward enough: clear statistics on which to base our votes in the upcoming election.

If only life was allowed to be so simple.

Beneath the headline figure it turns out that nearly 19,000 of the promised new 50,000 nurses are already employed by the NHS. In fact, that they are not new at all. Nor will the policy address the issue of EU nurses leaving.

Then there is the question of training more nurses.

The Conservatives axed the nurse bursary and free tuition fees back in 2017, thereby worsening the recruitment crisis, as part of their austerity policies.

This resulted in an 11% drop in student nurse numbers.

Little wonder there are reports of student nurses accessing food banks simply to survive.

Now they are offering to bring back a bursary of between £5k and 8k a year. Hardly a living wage, especially as nurses will still have to pay £9K annual tuition fees.

My point is this: political parties have a clear responsibility to not just make attractive sounding pledges to woo voters.

They must explain how they will deal with the complexities behind the problem.

Labour, on the other hand, is promising to not only restore the nurses’ bursary and tuition fees, but spend £1bn a year on training more nurses for a range of NHS sectors.

In addition, they will raise nurse salaries by 5% to make staying in the job more attractive. They believe this will be possible because they are prioritising £26bn of public money for an NHS “rescue plan”.

And this brings us to the core of the problem faced by voters. Which party do you believe is telling the truth?

Okay, the Conservatives have been in power for the last decade, so they have a clear track record we can judge.

As for Labour, it is a question of whether you believe the redistribution of wealth from billionaires and low tax-paying corporations, like Amazon or Google, to improve public services is even possible.

After all, that is how Labour plan to pay for saving the NHS: by reversing privatisation and rip off pharmaceutical prices, and making the very wealthy pay a higher share of taxes.

They say the truth is the first casualty of war.

Any election is a war between clashing visions of the world.

But unless we are allowed the truth about what political parties are truly offering, and exactly how they will deliver positive change, more casualties than just the truth are inevitable.

The huge numbers of homeless people on our streets and 14 million British citizens currently in poverty are heart-breaking proof of that.