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Nurse Numbers

Volume 593: debated on Tuesday 24 February 2015

The full-time equivalent number of nurses, midwives and health visitors working in the hospital and community health services in England per million population from September 2010 to September 2014 inclusive has remained broadly constant at 5,872, 5,768, 5,703, 5,712 and 5,781 respectively.

In response to 11 parliamentary questions that I submitted in the past year, the Minister has admitted that he does not know how many part-time, agency and locum GPs are in the health service, the number of agency and part-time nurses, the number of part-time doctors in our hospitals, or how many working nurses and midwives are also drawing their pensions. Given that he has so little detail on staffing, where did today’s figures come from, and what faith can anyone have in them?

They are in the monthly staff statistics survey. As the hon. Gentleman would like some detailed information, I am sure he will be pleased to hear that in his constituency there are now 386 more nurses than there were in 2010 under the previous Government, and nationally there are 7,500 more nurses, midwives and health visitors working in the NHS.

Does my hon. Friend agree with me and with the nursing profession that if nurse staffing levels on acute hospital wards fall below one registered nurse to seven acutely ill patients, excluding the registered nurse in charge, it will significantly increase the risk to patient care and result in avoidable excess deaths?

My hon. Friend and I have discussed this many times and I do not agree with him, as he knows. What is important is that patients are assessed on their clinical needs. A rehabilitation ward will need a different number of nurses—indeed, it may need physiotherapists and occupational therapists—from intensive care nursing, which often requires one-to-one care, so setting arbitrary staffing ratios is not in the best interests of patients.

Does the Minister accept that the issue is not just broad numbers, but the shortage of specialised nurses in many departments, certainly in Calderdale and Huddersfield, where we are finding it difficult to recruit the right qualified nurses for very specialist tasks, as well as the doctors to go with them?

In many parts of the country we are seeing more specialist nurses working, particularly in areas such as diabetes, and supporting patients with complex care needs. As we need better to support people with those complex care needs at home in their own communities, the Government will continue to invest in specialist nurses not just to provide care in hospital, but to work in the community at the same time.

Russells Hall hospital is being forced to lose one in 10 staff, which could include midwives, to deal with Government efficiency savings of £12 million every year. This morning the hospital’s chief executive has written to me and says that these

“excessive efficiency requirements place care at risk”.

She goes on to say that

“the financial challenge has reached unviable levels”

and that NHS providers

“can no longer guarantee sustainable and safe care”.

What will it take for Ministers to listen not just to us, but to NHS staff, and ensure that hospitals such as Russells Hall have the resources they need to provide care for local people?

I am sure the hon. Gentleman will be pleased that, as part of our winter pressures funding, Dudley received £3.5 million to support the hospital during a difficult winter period. There are now 69 more doctors and 324 more nurses, of whom 29 are extra midwives, working in the area than in 2010.