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NHS Staffing

Volume 662: debated on Tuesday 18 June 2019

The interim people plan that we published this month puts the workforce at the heart of the future of the NHS and will ensure that we have the staff needed to deliver high-quality care.

The Secretary of State will be aware that recruitment and retention is particularly difficult for hospitals in special measures, such as the Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, which he recently visited. Such hospitals have to rely heavily on agency staff, which puts pressure on their finances. What specific steps is he taking to help those hospitals with their financial and recruiting pressures?

We are working closely with that trust, and it was good to visit and see just how hard working the staff are. They are dedicated to the cause and well supported by their MPs. My hon. Friend is quite right to make that case, and we have a direct package of support for the Worcestershire Royal Hospital and the trust more broadly because it faces unique challenges, some of which are not at all of its own making. The staff at Worcester are working incredibly hard to deliver for their local citizens.

My constituents find it very difficult to access their GP, as we have a recruitment shortage in the constituency. The “General Practice Forward View” pledged to boost the GP workforce by 5,000 by 2020. Are the Government on course to meet that target?

We retain that target of 5,000 more GPs. We have managed to increase the number of staff working around GPs, because a GP does not need to do everything in primary care, so we have a more mixed workforce with physios and practice nurses working alongside GPs. There is more work still to do, and the NHS long-term plan sets out how we will make that happen.

The leadership team at King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust has asked for assistance from NHS Improvement to put in post a clinical director at the emergency services department, which has just been rated inadequate by the Care Quality Commission. This vital post, however, remains unfilled. What assurances can my right hon. Friend give that NHS Improvement can help trusts when they request assistance in this way?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. This is a vital post in a hospital and a hospital trust that does amazing work—some of the best medicine in the world is done at King’s—but it also has significant challenges with delivery, especially with respect to meeting financial targets and delivering value for money. King’s needs that support, which we are putting in place. I will raise the specific issue of the post he mentions with the head of NHS Improvement.

The Royal Stoke University Hospital, in partnership with Staffordshire University and Keele University, is training the next generation of clinicians, but the Secretary of State will know those universities need to be properly resourced to continue that vital training. What conversations is he having with the Department for Education to make sure that partnership thrives?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. We have expanded the number of medical training places; we have more people going into medicine; and we have a record number of GPs in training. This takes time, of course. I spoke to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education about this recently, and I will make sure that we keep pushing hard.

Our future immigration policy will be key to ensuring that our NHS is sufficiently staffed across the country. What discussions has my right hon. Friend had with the Home Secretary specifically on the £30,000 annual minimum income? I believe that limit is very detrimental to the sector.

I have had those discussions, and the Migration Advisory Committee has raised a specific concern about social care. We need to deliver better social care, with people coming from all around the world in addition to domestically trained people. I take on board my hon. Friend’s point.

Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield has struggled to retain midwives. As a result, the trust has proposed to cut and close the popular midwife-led maternity unit in Pontefract. Local mums are up in arms, as it is completely unfair. We keep seeing this pattern. When the NHS is under pressure from austerity, from shortages or from management issues, it is the services in towns that are hit. What will the Secretary of State do to make sure we have enough midwives across the country so that we can keep Pontefract’s midwife-led unit open and so the NHS can continue to sustain services that are vital to our towns?

The right hon. Lady, as always, puts the case for Pontefract very powerfully. The truth is that we will need more nurses and more midwives, as well as other health professionals, over the next five years because we are putting in a record amount of funding. More people are needed to deliver better services, and I am happy to meet her to discuss this specific case. Coming from and representing towns myself, I understand the importance of keeping services such as maternity services close to the people they serve.

Will my right hon. Friend make sure that his interim people plan looks again at the hugely underutilised resource of the allied health professions, including osteopaths and chiropractors? What is the point of having a professional standards authority to regulate them if the Department will not use them?

My hon. Friend makes an important point, one that we have frequently discussed. As he knows, I am married to an osteopath, so I do recognise the value that osteopaths bring to all of us.

Research shows that the ratio of registered nurses to patients is one of the most important factors in patient safety, so members of the Royal College of Nursing are calling on the Secretary of State to follow Wales and Scotland and to bring in safe staffing legislation. What is his answer to them?

Of course we need to have the right number of nurses. We need to make sure that we also put in the funding. If the SNP Government in Scotland had put the same funding increases into the NHS in Scotland, there would have been half a billion pounds more there over the last five years. So let us start with getting the money in that we are putting in in England, but is not fully being reflected by the SNP Government in Scotland.

The SNP in Scotland spends £185 a head more than England, so the Secretary of State should check his figures. At over 11%, the nurse vacancy rate in England is more than double that in Scotland. Whereas student nursing numbers have increased every year in Scotland, there are 570 fewer nursing students this year in England. Is it not time to follow Scotland’s approach, reintroduce the nursing bursary and end tuition fees?

I am not going to let the SNP spokesman get away with this. Normally, she brings a thoughtful contribution to health debates, but she said that there is more spending in Scotland per head. The truth is this: the increase in spending in England over the last five years is 17.6%, but in Scotland the increase is only 13.1%. That represents half a billion pounds less: the increase in spending that we have seen in England that they have not seen in Scotland. She should recognise that fact.