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Health and Social Care Sector Workforce

Volume 654: debated on Tuesday 19 February 2019

The long-term plan explicitly recognises the importance of the workforce, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has commissioned the chair of NHS Improvement to work closely with the chair of Health Education England in leading detailed work programmes to deliver an implementation plan. Social care plays a vital role in the forthcoming adult social care Green Paper, in which we will set out our plans to recruit, train and retain good people.

The Minister is right about the workforce challenge for all four health services in the UK, but the number of students in England taking nursing degree courses in the past two years has dropped by 900; and at over 11%, NHS England’s nursing vacancy rate is more than twice that in Scotland. With a 90% drop in the number of EU nurses coming to the UK because of Brexit and fewer students starting degree courses because of the cost, is it not time to follow Scotland by reintroducing the nursing bursary and ending tuition fees?

I am sure the hon. Gentleman will want to recognise the latest UCAS data for this year’s application cycle, which shows that, compared to the same time last year, there has been a 4.5% increase in the number of applicants for undergraduate nursing and midwifery courses. This is a significant improvement. He will also want to recognise that the loans system provides an extra £1,000. [Interruption.]

Order. Mr Luke Graham, calm yourself. You aspire to statesmanship, and I wish to cultivate and hone that legitimate aspiration—calm, Zen, statesmanship!

On Friday, I was privileged to take part in the launch of the health and social care academy in Cornwall. Cornwall NHS and social care providers have come together to train local students, including mature students, within the local health and social care provision without student tuition fees so that they can secure a job in Cornwall. May I invite the Minister to come and see the work we are doing and welcome this local innovation that is helping to address the NHS workforce challenge?

My hon. Friend rightly points out that there are several routes into healthcare professions, and I am delighted by what is happening in Cornwall. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be visiting him in the very near future.

We are in the midst of the worst-ever NHS workforce crisis, with more than 100,000 vacancies. The situation is unsustainable. Well-respected think-tanks say the figure could rise to 350,000 vacancies within a decade. What does the Minister consider a sustainable vacancy level both now and in a decade’s time?

The hon. Gentleman will recognise that the £20.5 billion in real terms that we are investing in the NHS under the long-term plan will make a significant difference. He will also want to recognise the roll-out of medical places, the fact that more people are applying for nursing places now than they were last year and the detailed implementation plans that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has commissioned. These will deliver a sustainable workforce.