Skip to main content

Doctors and Nurses

Volume 626: debated on Tuesday 4 July 2017

12. What steps his Department is taking to increase the number of doctors and nurses working in the NHS. (900185)

Last year this Government announced one of the biggest expansions of medical training places in the history of the NHS, involving funding 1,500 additional medical school places every year—of which 500 start this September—and reforms that will enable universities to offer up to 10,000 additional nurse training places every year.

Swindon clinical commissioning group secured pilot funding for its successful video campaign to recruit additional GPs to fill vacancies in our local community. Will the Secretary of State commit to exploring further innovative ways to match newly qualified staff to vacancies that they might not have considered?

My hon. Friend makes a really important point. In parts of the country, GP shortages have been successfully addressed as the CCG has done in Swindon. An important part of this is persuading people who go into medicine that general practice is one of the most exciting and rapidly changing parts of medicine today. We have seen a 9% increase in the number of medical students choosing to go into general practice since 2015.

Further to my hon. Friend’s question, may I ask the Secretary of State what he is doing to ensure that enough doctors are recruited, developed and retained at my local hospital, Stepping Hill?

I heard a lot about Stepping Hill when I went to visit my hon. Friend; I think it was last year. I had the privilege of visiting the hospital more recently after the horrific terrorist attacks, and I commend the hospital for the brilliant work that it did in the wake of the bomb. The hospital has done a good job of recruiting; I think it has recruited 93 more doctors and nearly 300 more nurses since 2010. A national programme to help all trusts to retain their nursing staff has been launched by NHS Improvement in the last week.

In this country, we are short of approximately 40,000 nurses, and applications for nursing places have gone down by 23%. Can the Secretary of State tell us why he and his Government think that that is the case?

The hon. Lady happens to work in an NHS hospital in which there has been a big increase in the number of nurses. Across the country, there are actually 13,000 more nurses working on our wards than there were in 2010, but she is right: we need more nurses and nursing staff, and that is why we are expanding the number of nurse associates. This year we are, for the first time, opening up an apprenticeship route into nursing, which means that people from non-traditional backgrounds—particularly band 3 healthcare assistants—will find it much easier to get into nursing. That is how we will expand the workforce.

According to the latest NHS indicators published by the House of Commons Library last week, the number of GPs is estimated to have fallen over the past 12 months, and the figures for March 2017 are expected to show a further fall. Why is that?

We have had a big increase in the number of medical students choosing to go into general practice, but we have also had an increase in the number of GPs retiring early. That is a problem that we are urgently addressing.

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on serving as Health Secretary for three Parliaments, and say to him that besides doctors and nurses, he should look to increase the use of properly regulated acupuncturists, herbalists, homeopaths, chiropractors and osteopaths, who would reduce the burden on doctors and nurses in the health service.

Over those three Parliaments, I have learned to expect questions from my hon. Friend in a similar vein, and I commend him for his persistence in championing that cause. As he knows, I think the most important thing, with all such issues, is to follow the scientific advice.

When the Government removed the nursing bursary and introduced tuition fees, the Secretary of State said that it was being done, as he has repeated this morning, to fund 10,000 extra student nurse places. The universities are saying that no extra places have been commissioned, however, so when will we see an expansion of student nurse training?

I always welcome the hon. Lady’s forensic interest in matters south of the border, but given that Scotland has just seen its first fall in life expectancy for over 100 years, she might want to think about her own constituents. With respect to the number of nurses, we now have more than 50,000 nurses in training, and we are confident that we will deliver a big increase in the supply of nurses to the NHS.

We still have a nursing bursary and we have no tuition charges, so the Secretary of State may want to explain why universities claim there are no additional places. In addition, we are losing almost half of junior doctors at the end of their foundation years. What action is the Secretary of State taking to find out why?

At the heart of this is the need to open up avenues for more flexible working for both doctors and nurses. If the hon. Lady followed what we have done in England—by successfully pioneering such working, we have reduced agency spend by 19% in a year, whereas it is still going up in Scotland—she might find the NHS in Scotland has more money to spend on her own constituents.

Will the Secretary of State confirm what specific actions he is taking to help trusts, such as the Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust that runs the Alex hospital in my constituency of Redditch, which are in special measures? Such trusts face special pressures in recruiting and retaining staff.

I welcome my hon. Friend’s first question to me. I am very aware of the issues faced by the Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, which I visited during the difficult winter period that it has just come through. It now has a new chief executive and leadership team, who have made a very promising start. From the experience of many other hospitals that have been through difficult patches, we have found that it is usually never about the commitment of staff, but about getting the right leadership in place. I can assure her that I saw outstanding commitment from the staff of the trust.

The number of nurses has fallen for the first time in a decade, which is why we need fair pay now. I read in the newspapers that the Health Secretary now supports the Labour party policy of scrapping the cap, although he did not vote with us last week. Given that he supports our policy, when he soon sets the remit for the NHS Pay Review Body, will he tell it to scrap the cap, and will he publish his instructions before the summer recess?

I did not vote for the hon. Gentleman’s amendment, because—as usual—Labour Members have told us a lot about how they want to spend the money, without having the faintest idea of where it will come from. He is ignoring an elephant in the room: if we had followed the spending plans he campaigned for in 2015, the NHS would have £2.6 billion less this year, which is the equivalent of 85,000 fewer nurses.

I want to talk about the spending plans for 2017, in which the Secretary of State can find £1 billion for Northern Ireland, but nothing for nurses in England. Would it not be fairer not to go ahead with further cuts to corporation tax, and to put that money towards giving our doctors and nurses a fair pay rise?

Let me tell the hon. Gentleman what extra money is going into the NHS: three years ago, £1.8 billion, which was not asked for by Labour; two years ago, £3.8 billion, which is nearly £1 billion more than Labour was promising; and this year, £1.3 billion. That is a lot of extra money. Why is it going in? Because, under this Government, we have created nearly 3 million jobs, and that strong economy is funding an improving NHS.