asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he will take steps to eradicate the shortage of nursing staff in the Argyll and Clyde health board area.
The recruitment of nursing staff in each area is a matter for the health board. Nationally the number of nurses and the number of those entering training for nursing has been increasing steadily over the past two years.
Is the Minister aware that in the Argyll and Clyde health board area the number of nursing staff in post during the past financial year was 25 per cent. below the Scottish average? It is a matter of life and death. What steps does the Minister intend to take tomorrow morning at 9 o'clock to rectify the problem? Does he accept that the answer that I received from the board that the shortfall in the past financial year was due to a postal strike in Ireland is ludicrously pathetic?
I repeat—and this also affects the Argyll and Clyde board area—that the recruitment of nurses has been increasing. There is a shortfall of about 61 nurses in that board's area. The hon. Gentleman will know that the board has difficulty in recruiting for its nursing establishment because of competition from the Glasgow area.
Does my hon. Friend realise that my constituents are concerned that savings will have to be made in health facilities in Argyll to make up for the massive deficit at Inverclyde Royal infirmary?
I accept what my hon. Friend says. However, even with the withdrawal of beds from Inverclyde, it is now on the Scottish average of 2·5 beds per thousand.
Does the Minister accept that the increasing shortage of nurses—not merely in that area—is almost entirely due to the total inadequacy of nursing salaries? Will he undertake that that matter will be looked at again, despite the Clegg report, which is a disappointment to nurses? In the light of raging inflation, does the hon. Gentleman accept that nurses' salaries should be looked at continuously?
Of course I shall consider the matter continuously. However, I must point out to the hon. Gentleman that his question is based on a mistaken impression. Recruitment of nurses has been increasing over the past five years, and particularly during the past two. It has not been decreasing.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the scarcity of nurses reflects greatly on the deplorable way in which the Labour Government dealt with them?
I accept the second part of my hon. Friend's question, but I repeat that the recruitment of nurses is quite healthy.
Despite representations to increase the funds of the Argyll and Clyde health board to allow it to open up the 72 beds that have not been opened up so far—and I appreciate what the Secretary of State has done—if that is not successful, what are the plans for staff redundancies in the area, including nursing staff?
There is no question of redundancy among nursing staff. Although the Argyll and Clyde board is having difficulty with an overspend of about £0·9 million this year, that is only 1·7 per cent. of the total budget. We have every hope that it will be under control next year.