Skip to main content

NHS Workforce Shortages

Volume 652: debated on Tuesday 15 January 2019

Good morning, Mr Speaker. The NHS employs more staff now than at any time in its 70-year history, with a significant growth in newly qualified staff since 2012. We have increased the number of available training places for doctors, nurses and midwives, and taken further actions to boost the supply of nurses, including offering new routes into the profession and encouraging those who have left nursing to return. The long-term plan, which was announced last week, sets out the framework to ensure that the NHS has the staff it needs.

Guy’s and St Thomas’s, which is based in my constituency, offers globally renowned, first-class healthcare, but the trust has seen a massive drop in applications from other EU member states, including of almost 90% in midwives alone. All vacant posts across the NHS present the risk of longer waiting times and risk patient safety, so why did the Government not publish the workforce strategy in the so-called long-term plan? When will it appear? Will the Government reinstate nursing bursaries to address the shocking staff shortfall across the NHS?

As I said a moment ago, the long-term plan sets out a framework to ensure that, over the next 10 years, the NHS will have the staff it needs. To ensure that we have the detailed plan the hon. Gentleman wants, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has commissioned Baroness Harding to lead a rapid and inclusive programme of work to set out a detailed workforce implementation plan, which will be published in the spring.

Fifty per cent. of the staff the NHS will need in 15 years’ time are working there now, yet one in 10 nurses is leaving, 80% of junior doctors report excessive stress and six out of 10 consultants want to retire at 60 or before. Does the Minister not accept that this Government have presided over a disastrous decline in morale in the NHS, and will he say what the workforce plan will do to address it?

Nurses are at the absolute heart of our NHS. There are 13,400 more nurses since May 2010. We have announced the biggest expansion of nurse training places, with 5,000 more available from 2018. Alongside that, we are opening up new routes. As the hon. Lady will know, the workforce is at the heart of the long-term plan and, as I have just said, a detailed workforce implementation plan will be published in the spring.

Last week, a 14-year-old boy lost his life in my local community, yet in September, when the Department wrote to my local community asking for ideas about mental health provision, I wrote back to Ministers asking for an urgent meeting to talk about how we could get mental health workers into our schools to work with young people who might be at risk of being involved in gang violence and youth violence. With the shortage of mental health workers at a rate of one in 10, can I finally have that meeting with Ministers so that we can talk urgently about how to support such young people and save not only money, but lives?

The answer to that question is yes. The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price), will be delighted to meet the hon. Lady.

The most recent Care Quality Commission inspection of the Royal Oldham Hospital said that it failed to meet safe staffing numbers in maternity and it only had 85% of the required staffing contingent in surgery. There is a human cost to that. We see list after list where people have died, including children, because of unsafe staffing numbers in that hospital. Where is the urgency that is required to address that? Will the Minister meet me about this particular hospital to see what more can be done?

The hon. Gentleman is right. I recognise that the overall CQC rating was that the hospital requires improvement. I understand that the funding that has gone into it has been more than adequate and that it is improving. However, I recognise the concerns he raises and I would be delighted to meet him to discuss them.

Will my hon. Friend congratulate Conservative-controlled Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council’s health and wellbeing board, and its approach to NHS workforce shortages? It has, for several years, been working on collaboration between GPs and community services, which is in line with the 10-year plan. Will he look at the registers of the Professional Standards Authority, which are not mentioned in the long-term plan, and see if he can make better use of the 80,000 properly regulated practitioners on those registers?

My hon. Friend is right to recognise that community provision lies at the heart of the long-term plan, and that a number of health service professionals make up that community provision. If he wishes to write to me about registers, I will be delighted to respond.

The Minister knows about our difficulties in recruiting obstetricians, which has led to what we very much hope is the temporary closure of the full obstetrics service at Horton General Hospital in Banbury. We are doing everything we can locally to rectify that situation. What more can the Minister do to help us nationally?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s campaign and her tireless work on behalf of her constituents. Figures from the Royal College of Midwives show that there are over 2,000 more midwives on our wards since 2010. The NHS plans to train 3,000 more midwives over the next four years, and as of last September there are over 5,000 more doctors in obstetrics and gynaecology than there were in May 2010. The NHS is hoping to fulfil what my hon. Friend wants to see.

Will the Minister confirm that since the Brexit referendum in June 2016 there has been an increase of 4,000 EU nationals working in our NHS?

My hon. Friend and I do not always agree on everything about the EU, but numbers and statistics show that he is correct on that matter.

Clearly, it is important as we move forward with the NHS to train more doctors and nurses. What is the Minister doing to encourage young people to start training to become nurses, doctors, and for other positions in the health service?

My hon. Friend is right, and we are ensuring more routes into the nursing profession, such as nursing apprenticeships and nursing associates. We are training more GPs, and we are determined to get 5,000 extra GPs into general practice. A record 3,400 doctors have been recruited into GP training and, as part of the long-term plan, newly qualified doctors and nurses entering general practice will be offered a two-year fellowship to support them to stay there.

The long-term plan admits that staffing shortfalls are “unsustainable”, yet incredibly there is no mention anywhere in the document of the damage done by the abolition of the nursing bursary. The plan contains an ambition to double the number of volunteers within three years, and although we should rightly celebrate the fantastic contribution made by volunteers, is it not damning that, with a record 100,000 vacancies in the NHS, the main plank of the Government’s strategy to tackle the workforce crisis is to rely on volunteers?

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that volunteers in the NHS provide an invaluable service, but he is completely wrong to suggest that any part of the long-term plan relies on volunteers. There is an expansion in numbers of nursing associates to deal with those vacancies and, as I have said to other hon. Members, we have seen an increase in the number of doctors in GP training. Obviously, he will welcome the £20.5 billion a year that is going into the national health service. That will inevitably mean more doctors and nurses, which is why we are making more training places available.