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Volume 408: debated on Thursday 3 July 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for Health what steps he is taking to tackle the shortage of qualified neurologists; and what targets he has set to reduce waiting times in neurology. [121464]

[holding answer 26 June 2003]: There have been significant increases in neurologist numbers in recent years and there are more planned. The overall expansion in consultant numbers set out in the NHS Plan should have positive implications for neurology recruitment.As at 31 March 2002, there were 372 consultants in neurology, which means that since September 1997, numbers increased by 34 per cent. We are working towards increasing these numbers further.The long-term conditions care group workforce team covers the national service frameworks (NSFs) for diabetes, renal and long-term conditions, including neurological conditions. It brings together, in relevant workforce groups, key stakeholders, including patients, to lead on strategies for building a flexible workforce to deliver the NSFs. It is the first time that workforce planning has been carried out in this manner. This approach will support the development of the workforce and enable the national health service to grow the right number of workers, with the right skills, in the right place at the right time. Membership of the long-term conditions workforce group includes representatives of the Neurological Alliance and the North West Clinical Neuroscience Partnership.Targets were set to reduce out-patients waits to 21 weeks by April 2003 and there are further targets to reduce waits to 16 weeks by 1 April 2004. People with neurological conditions stand to benefit from these reductions in waiting times.