Not only has the number of nurses on our wards increased by more than 11,000 since May 2010, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned earlier, but the NHS has nearly 11,300 more doctors, over 2,700 more paramedics, over 26,000 more supporters for clinical staff, and 5,700 fewer administrators. However, we recognise the pressures on staff from increasing demand. That is why last year my right hon. Friend announced a 25% increase in the number of doctors in training, and why last week he announced a 25% record increase in the number of nursing training places.
Huddersfield Royal Infirmary, which is in my constituency, is currently facing plans for a downgrading that would result in the loss of 500 hard-working professionals. Is it too much to ask for the Minister, or the Secretary of State, to visit the hospital, as I have requested, before those hard-working trained professionals are lost, and can he assure me—and my constituents—that those cuts, and the pressures on nearby hospitals, will not jeopardise the safety of patients?
I will try to keep this answer short, Mr Speaker.
As the hon. Lady will know, the local joint health overview and scrutiny committee has referred those proposals to the Secretary of State, and it would not be appropriate for me to visit the hospital while the referral is in progress.
On the subject of vital NHS staff, will the Minister join me in congratulating the thousands of community pharmacists on their daily commitment and professionalism? Will he confirm, once and for all, that he has no intention of downgrading their role and putting patients at risk? Surely he agrees that the Prime Minister would have been well advised to seek a cough remedy from a qualified community pharmacist rather than relying on an unqualified Chancellor of the Exchequer.
As the hon. Lady will know, we have inserted payment for extra activity into the contract for community pharmacists because we want more activities to take place in community pharmacies. For example, many flu vaccinations throughout the country are now being carried out by pharmacists.
I thank the Minister for the recent meeting that he had with me and other colleagues about Grimsby Hospital, which is in special measures. It was clear from a recent meeting I had with the chief executive that staff vacancies are one of the biggest problems preventing the hospital from getting out of special measures. What additional support can the Department offer in order to get the hospital back on track?
I was pleased to welcome my hon. Friend to a meeting a few days ago to discuss the situation, together with his Opposition constituency neighbours. One of the things that we will be looking at in the coming weeks is the allocation of the new doctor training places. As part of the criteria, we will be looking to ensure that some of those places are allocated to areas where it is difficult to recruit, such as rural and coastal areas.
The Minister has visited Kettering General Hospital and knows the wonderful work that the doctors and nurses there do. The problem that the hospital faces, however, is that too few of the doctors and nurses are full-time permanent members of staff, and too many locums are being hired, at great expense to the hospital budget. What is my hon. Friend’s advice for Kettering hospital on tackling the issue?
When I visited Kettering General Hospital we discussed excessive agency staff costs. One of the measures announced last week by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was a drive to invest more in both regional and local bank agencies within the NHS so that we can reduce the reliance on more expensive agency staff.