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Health Visitors and Nurses

Volume 554: debated on Tuesday 27 November 2012

1. How many (a) health visitors and (b) nurses there were in the NHS in May 2010 and the latest month for which figures are available. (129934)

The number of full-time equivalent qualified nurses and midwives employed in the national health service in England in May 2010 was 310,793, and in August 2012 it was 304,566. The number of full-time equivalent health visitors in May 2010 was 8,092 and in August 2012 it was 8,067, with an additional 226 health visitors employed by organisations not using the electronic staff record.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. The recent Care Quality Commission report found that 10% of NHS hospitals did not meet the standard of treating people with respect and dignity, and underpinning that poor care were high vacancy rates and hospitals that have struggled to make sure they have enough qualified staff on duty at all times. That shows us the real impact of losing those thousands of nurses. So does he agree that it is urgent that this Government take action when understaffing in the NHS results in poor care?

I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady that nowhere in the NHS should allow low staff numbers to lead to poor care. What was interesting about the CQC report, which was a wake-up call for the whole NHS, was that institutions under financial pressure, as the whole NHS is, are delivering excellent care in some places and delivering care that is unsatisfactory and not good enough in other places. On her specific question about nurses and nurse numbers, it is important to recognise that across the NHS as a whole the nurse-to-bed ratio has increased. Every NHS bed is getting an extra two hours of care per week compared with the situation two years ago.

Will the Secretary of State give an instruction, irrespective of the numbers, that we go back to traditional nursing methods, as now that we have an almost all-graduate nursing profession we seem to have lost touch with true, caring nursing?

I have some sympathy with what my hon. Friend is saying, although it is important to recognise, as we have this debate about nursing, that the vast majority of nurses in the NHS do an outstanding job and we are very lucky to have them giving their lives to the NHS. Next week, at the chief nursing officer’s conference, we are launching a new vision for nursing, which will put compassion and the patient at the heart of what nurses do. I hope that will address some of her concerns.

Last week, official statistics revealed that 7,134 nursing jobs had been lost under the coalition—almost 1,000 of them in the last month on the Secretary of State’s watch. The very next day, the Care Quality Commission warned that 16% of hospitals in England are not meeting the CQC standard for adequate staffing levels. Is this not prima facie evidence that the NHS and patients are not safe in his hands? Will he urgently intervene to stop the job losses?

The reason why the CQC undertook its shocking investigation into the state of care in our country was that this Government introduced dignity and nutrition inspections, which never happened when the right hon. Gentleman was Secretary of State. He talked about numbers employed in the NHS, so let us look at them. Yes, there has been a 2% decline in the number of nurses, but there has been an increase in the nurse-to-bed ratio. There has been a 4% increase in the number of midwives, a 5% increase in the number of doctors and an increase of more than 50% in the number of health visitors—their number went down when he was in office. How much worse would those numbers have been if we had had the cut in NHS funding that he wanted?