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NHS Long-term Workforce Plan

Volume 735: debated on Monday 3 July 2023

I wish to thank the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care for coming to the Chamber to make his statement. It is a pity that the Prime Minister did not do so on Friday when the world heard what he had to say before we did. The Prime Minister is a Member of Parliament. He is answerable to the Members of Parliament from all political parties. I have to say that his behaviour was not acceptable. He may be the Prime Minister, but the Members of Parliament should hear first. I am very pleased that the Secretary of State is doing it the right way.

That is also noted, Mr Speaker.

May I, on behalf of the Government, note the passing of the former head of the civil service, Lord Kerslake? He had a distinguished career in public service, including as chief executive of Sheffield Council and chair of King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, as well as being head of the civil service. We send our condolences to his family and friends both in Whitehall and across the civil service.

With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a statement on our long-term workforce plan for the NHS.

This week marks the 75th birthday of the NHS. We should celebrate its achievements, its founding principles and its people. From doctors and dentists to pharmacists and physios, NHS staff devote their lives to caring for others. I am sure the whole House would agree that the NHS holds a special place in our country due to the care offered by the people who work for it.

It is said that, in 1948, the NHS had fewer than 150,000 staff and a budget of around £11 billion. Today, the NHS employs closer to 1.4 million people with a budget of more than £160 billion. The transformation of the care offered by the NHS through advances in medicine is reflected in the fact that people now live 13 years longer than on average in 1948.

Today, alongside the increase in the number of staff, the range of treatments and the improved patient outcomes, demand on the NHS has also increased. People live longer, they live with more complex medical conditions, and we are also dealing with the challenges left behind by a once-in-a-generation pandemic.

One in four adults lives with two or more health conditions. Although our population is forecast to grow by around 4% over the next 15 years, the number of those over 85 is forecast to grow by more than 50%. In addressing the challenges both of today and of the longer term, it is right that we have a recovery plan focused on the immediate steps as we rebuild from the pandemic, and longer-term plans to ensure that the NHS is sustainable for the future. This will ensure that the NHS is there for future generations in the way that it has been for us and our families over the past 75 years.

We have already set out detailed recovery plans to reduce long waits for operations, improve access to urgent and emergency care and make it easier to see GPs and specialists in primary care. On electives, we have virtually eliminated the two-year wait, which we did this summer, and cleared more than 90% of 80-week waits from their peak at the end of March—in marked contrast to the much longer waits we see in Wales, where the NHS is run by Labour.

On urgent and emergency care, we are investing £1 billion in 5,000 additional permanent beds, alongside expanding virtual wards to improve discharge from hospital and investing in community services to prevent admissions, especially for the frail and elderly. On primary care, we are investing more than £600 million, including in improving technology to address the 8 am rush. We have already exceeded our manifesto target by 3,000, with 29,000 additional roles in primary care to enable patients to access specialists more quickly, and we are reducing burdens on GP surgeries through the development of the NHS app and improving the range of services offered through Pharmacy First, enabling pharmacists to prescribe drug treatments for seven minor illnesses.

Alongside the recovery plans, we are taking action to improve prevention through early diagnosis of conditions, whether through the 108 community diagnostic centres that are already open, or the 43 new and expanded surgical hubs planned for this year. Our national roll-out of our lung cancer screening programme has helped to transform patient outcomes, turning on its head the previous position where 80% of lung cancers in our most deprived communities were detected late, with 76% now being detected early.

Alongside the immediate measures we are taking to deal with demand in the NHS, as we celebrate the 75th anniversary we are also investing in the NHS to make sure it is sustainable for the future. Last month, I announced to the House the largest-ever investment in the NHS estate, with more than £20 billion committed to our new hospitals programme.

Today I can confirm to the House that, for the first time in the NHS’s history, the Government have committed to publishing a long-term workforce plan, setting out the largest-ever workforce training expansion in the NHS’s history, backed by £2.4 billion of new funding. The plan responds to requests from NHS leaders and has been developed by NHS England. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Amanda Pritchard, the chief executive of NHS England and her team, Gavin Larner and colleagues within the Department of Health and Social Care, and the more than 60 NHS organisations that have engaged closely in the plan’s development, including many of our Royal Colleges.

The plan sets out three priorities: to train more staff, to retain and develop the staff already working for the NHS and to reform how training is delivered, taking on board the best of international practice. Let me deal with each in turn. We will double the number of medical school places, increase the availability of GPs being trained by 50%, train 24,000 more nurses and midwives and increase the number of dentists by 40%.

When it comes to improving retention, we recognise the importance of flexible working opportunities, especially for those approaching retirement. The plan will build on proposals in the NHS people plan and build on steps already taken by the Chancellor at the spring Budget on pension tax reform.

In respect of reform, the plan sets out policies to expand the number of associate roles, which provide greater career progression for existing staff and in turn reduce the workload of senior clinicians, allowing them to focus on the work that only they can do. Both measures will improve productivity by enabling more staff to operate at the top of their licence. A constant theme across the long-term workforce plan is our focus on apprenticeships and vocational training, including a commitment to increasing the number of staff coming through apprenticeships from 7% today to 22% by 2031-32. That reflects the strong commitment of the Secretary of State for Education and myself to facilitate greater career progression through apprenticeships. It will also help to recruit and retain staff in parts of the country that often find it harder to recruit

In the week in which we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the NHS, today’s announcement confirms the Government’s commitment to the first ever comprehensive NHS long-term workforce plan. The plan sets out detailed proposals to train more staff, offers greater flexibility and opportunity to existing staff, and embraces innovation by reforming how education and training are delivered across the NHS. The plan will be iterative; we will return to it every couple of years to enable progress to reflect advances in technology such as artificial intelligence so that the numbers trained can be best aligned with patient services. It also reflects a growing need for more general skills in the NHS, as patients with more than one condition require a more holistic approach.

The NHS long-term plan, backed by £2.4 billion of new funding, comes in addition to our record investment in the NHS estate. It ensures that we put in place the funding required for a sustainable future for the NHS, alongside the steps that we are taking in the immediate term to reduce waiting lists and ensure that the NHS is there for patients. As the chief executive of NHS England has said herself, the long-term workforce plan is a truly historic moment for the NHS. As such, I commend this statement to the House.

I thank the Health Secretary for advance sight of his statement. I say “statement”, but what I really mean is “admission”—an admission that, after 13 long years, the Conservatives have run out of road, run out of ideas, and turned to Labour to clear up the mess that they have made. Make no mistake: at its heart, this is Labour’s workforce plan. It is a plan that we have called for since last September; a plan that we have begged the Government to adopt again and again. They say that imitation is sincerest form of flattery, and I, for one, am relieved that the Government have finally seen sense, but the question that the Health Secretary and Conservative Members need to answer today is: what on earth took them so long?

This week, the NHS celebrates its 75th anniversary as it faces the biggest crisis in its history—a crisis that has been building for years under this Government: a staff shortage of 154,000, 7.4 million patients stuck waiting for treatment, people across the country finding it virtually impossible to see a GP, and families desperately worried that if they need an emergency ambulance, it just will not arrive on time. Ministers constantly blame covid for those problems, but the truth is that waiting list numbers were rising and staff shortages increasing long before the pandemic struck.

Patients now want to know when they will finally see a difference. Can the Health Secretary confirm that, under his proposals, the NHS will not have the staff that it needs for at least eight years? Does he now regret the cut in medical school places that his Government brought in in 2013? Does he regret the decision taken last summer to cut the number of medical school places by 3,000 just when the NHS needed them most?

The Health Secretary claims that this is the first long-term NHS workforce plan, but let me set the record straight. In 2000, the last Labour Government produced a 10-year plan of investment and reform—a plan that delivered not only 44,000 more doctors and 75,000 more nurses, but the lowest-ever waiting times and the highest-ever patient satisfaction in the history of the NHS. That was a golden inheritance that Conservative Members can only dream of and that they have squandered through a decade of inaction and incompetence.

Let me turn briefly to what is missing from the proposals. Without a serious strategy to keep staff working in the NHS, Ministers will be forever running to catch up with themselves. Yet the Secretary of State has completely failed to put forward a proper plan to end the crippling strikes that are having such a huge impact on patient care. Six hundred and fifty thousand operations and appointments have been cancelled because of industrial action. Next week, junior doctors will walk out for five days, followed by two days of consultants’ strikes. After seven months of disruption, can the Health Secretary tell us when he and the Prime Minister will finally do their job, sit down and negotiate with staff, and bring an end to this Tory chaos?

The one part of Labour’s workforce plan that Ministers have not stolen is our plan to fund it by scrapping the non-dom tax status. In fact, when the Health Secretary was touring the media studios yesterday, he was asked nine times how he was going to pay for the plan and he completely failed to answer. He has had a little more time to prepare, so I am going to try again. Will he fund it through higher taxes, when we already have the highest tax burden for 70 years, or will he fund it through higher borrowing, when our nation’s debt is at record levels? Labour will introduce plans only when we can show how they will be paid for, because that is what taxpayers deserve. It is high time that Conservatives did the same.

From the windfall tax to help for mortgage holders to a proper plan for the NHS workforce, where Labour leads, the Conservatives only follow. This tired, discredited Government have had their day. The public know that it is time for change, and in their hearts Government Members too know that it is time for change. It is time for them to move aside and let Labour finally deliver.

Well, that really was a confused response. The hon. Lady began with reference to Labour’s proposals and the claim that our plan followed them. I took the precaution of bringing Labour’s announcement with me to the Chamber. Members can look at it in their own time, but it does not use the word “reform” once, despite the fact that “Train, retain, reform” is a key part of our proposals. Proposals for reform include moving from five-year to four-year medical undergraduate training; the expansion of roles such as physician associate; a significant expansion in the use of apprenticeships; and flexibility for retiring consultants, so that they can return to roles in, for example, out-patient services. A wide range of reforms came about as a result of the consultation with 60 different NHS organisations and are a key feature of the plan, but in Labour’s proposals reform is not mentioned once.

In addition, Labour’s proposals are for a 10-year period. Our plan covers 15 years. Its proposal covered 23,000 additional health roles; our proposal deals with 50,000. I could go on and talk about the fact that the Labour proposal does not even mention GP trainees. Labour Members keep coming to the House and saying that primary care is important, but their proposals did not even touch on the workforce with regard to GPs. They did not even mention pharmacists, even though, as part of a primary care recovery plan, a key chunk of our proposal is Pharmacy First. It is extremely important that we can deliver services to patients in innovative ways. The ultimate irony is that the shadow Health Secretary, in one of his many interviews, including interviews to promote his book, said that the NHS “must reform or die”. He said that it must reform, yet Labour’s proposals do not mention reform at all.

Labour welcomes the plan, but it goes on to say that it will take too long to implement, while claiming that it is its plan, which, again, points to the confusion among Labour Members. Let me remind the House of what has been done. We had a manifesto commitment for 50,000 additional nurses—we are on track to deliver that, with 44,000 in place. We had a manifesto commitment to have 26,000 additional roles in primary care, and we have met that, with 29,000 roles in place. In 2018, we made a commitment to five new medical schools in parts of the country where it is hard to recruit. We have delivered that—a 25% expansion in the number of medical students, who will come on stream in hospitals next summer. However, as we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the NHS, it is right that we also look beyond that to the longer-term needs of the NHS. That is exactly what the plan does with its doubling of medical places, but alongside that, it innovates by embracing things like a medical apprenticeship so that we can look at different ways of delivering training.

The hon. Lady talked about strikes, which is a further area of confusion on the Labour Benches. Labour Members say that they do not support a 35% pay rise for junior doctors, on the grounds that the shadow Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves), says that they should not. Either Labour Members want to support the junior doctors, or they do not—once again, their position seems confused.

I will finish with one final area of confusion on the Labour Benches. The hon. Lady talked about the elastic non-dom revenue raiser, despite the fact that the former shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, has said that it would not raise the funds that are claimed. He has said that it would do quite the opposite: it would deter investment in the UK. In addition, Labour has already spent those funds on a range of measures, such as the breakfast clubs that Labour Members come to the House and talk about. The reality is that it would not fund Labour’s proposals, whereas we have made a commitment to back our plan with £2.4 billion of funding from the Treasury.

This is a historic moment as we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the NHS. It is a long-term commitment from a Government who are backing the NHS through the biggest investment in the NHS estate—over £20 billion —and a series of recovery programmes, expanding our diagnostic capacity and our surgical hubs. That is why the workforce plan is truly innovative. It does not just train more staff or offer opportunities to retain more staff; it reforms as well—something that is sadly lacking in Labour’s proposals.

This is a serious piece of work, and it is very welcome. Despite calls from people like me to get on with it, it was right for the Government to take their time and get it right. The Select Committee will scrutinise it—as we do—on 12 July.

The training piece is very strong. Doubling the number of medical school places has to be right, and I am glad that the Secretary of State thought of it. On retention, if we are saying—rightly, I would contest—that it is not all about pay, what role does he envisage the integrated care systems and, therefore, the trusts having in supporting staff as he makes the “one workforce” that is mentioned in section 5, with which I agree, come to pass?

Characteristically, my hon. Friend the Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee makes an extremely pertinent point about the role of the ICSs. As we move to place-based commissioning and look to integrate more, the interplay between the workforces in the NHS and in social care will be a key area where the ICSs will be extremely important.

The ICSs will have a particular role in the apprenticeship and vocational training, which are key retention tools in those parts of the country where it is hard to recruit, as well as in offering more flexibility to staff. When I talk to NHS staff, they often talk about having different needs at different stages of their career—whether for childcare commitments, which relate to the measures the Chancellor set out in the Budget, caring for an elderly relative, or wanting to retire and work in more flexible ways—and the ICSs have a key role to play in that. I welcome my hon. Friend’s comment that this is a serious and complex piece of work, and that it was right that we took our time to get it correct.

Despite the significant desert of dentists, I note from the plan that we will not see an increase in dental training places next year, the year after or the year after that, meaning that we will not see more dentists for nearly another decade. We have a crisis now, so what is the Secretary of State going to do about it?

We are already seeing a fifth more work than last year, due to the flexibilities that the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Neil O’Brien) announced, including the ability for dentists to take on more work within their commission and the changes to the units of dental activity pricing to better reflect more complex work. Of course, we have 6.5% more dentists than in 2010, but we also recognise that within the £3 billion budget, we want to go further. That is why we are looking at proposals to go further than the measures announced, but progress is being made, with a fifth more activity than last year.

I welcome the workforce plan and applaud NHS England’s ambition. However, for the plan to be successful, it is vital that we promote career options that often go unseen. I therefore urge my right hon. Friend to work with the Education Secretary and NHS England to ensure that young people are better informed about the myriad opportunities in the allied health professions and as healthcare scientists before choosing GCSE, A-level or university options.

My hon. Friend raises a brilliant point. I do not know if Members know, but there are 350 different types of role in the NHS. It is really important that we get the right information to children whose parents are perhaps not informed about those opportunities. One point on which I slightly take issue with my hon. Friend is that it is not just those at the start of their career who need to be aware of the opportunities. This is about offering opportunities to people throughout their careers to progress and to take on more advanced roles. I strongly believe that we should not define people’s future career by where they are at 21 or 22; they should have the opportunity to progress. That is a key part of the workforce plan, and I think it is a key Conservative principle that they have that ladder of opportunity throughout their time in the NHS.

I associate myself with the remarks the Secretary of State made about Bob Kerslake. He was a true public servant, and his death is our loss.

What is the point of a workforce plan if the Secretary of State is not actually talking to the workforce? When will he talk to the junior doctors and the consultants? Can I also ask whether the work on the workforce plan will start forthwith or sometime in the future?

The fact that we are talking to the workforce is shown by the fact that we have reached agreement with the largest workforce group in the NHS.

The right hon. Lady, for whom I have a huge amount of respect, is shaking her head, but it is a fact that the largest workforce group in the NHS are those on “Agenda for Change”, which covers more than 1 million healthcare workers from nurses, midwifes and paramedics through to porters, cleaners and many others. We have reached agreement with the NHS Staff Council, and those sums—the 5%, plus the lump sum in recognition of their tremendous work—is going into pay packets this month. So we have reached agreement, notwithstanding discussions with the junior doctors. They still demand 35%, and that is not affordable.

I welcome this long-term plan, particularly its recognition that the skillsets required in the NHS over the next 10 or 15 years, with the requirement for multidisciplinary working and generalised clinical skills, are going to change. Does my right hon. Friend agree that two things are needed for implementation? One is to improve the sense of culture in the NHS, which could lead to better retention. The second element is to ensure that digital innovation, particularly the use of artificial intelligence to improve clinical skills and other skills, is rolled out more generally in the NHS. We need to diffuse that innovation a lot more to support the critical new skillsets that are required for a modern health service.

My hon. Friend is exactly right. As a former Health Minister, he knows these issues extremely well. There is a requirement—this is something the chief medical officer, Professor Sir Chris Whitty, has spoken about—for more generalist skills in the NHS, not least given that one in four adults now has two or more health conditions. We need flexibility to respond to changes not just in technology, but in service design, which will evolve as well.

My hon. Friend is also right about the wider issues of culture. I think the whole House was concerned about recent reports of sexual assaults linked to the NHS. One of the key features of the agreement we have reached with the NHS Staff Council is to work more in partnership on violence against members of NHS staff. I know there will be consensus in the House that that is unacceptable, so we are working with trade union colleagues on how we tackle it. Again, with racism, we still have too many cases of concern. There are a number of areas of culture that we are working constructively with trade union colleagues and others to address.

I thank the Secretary of State for his comments about Bob Kerslake, whose spell in public service included his time as chief executive of Sheffield City Council. He continued to have many roles in the city, where he will be much missed.

After this Government’s 13 years in charge, morale in the NHS is clearly at rock bottom, with the value of pay falling, pressures increasing and a record number of staff—almost 170,000—leaving the NHS last year. The CEO of NHS Providers said that that must be reversed, but all the Secretary of State talks about is a little bit of working flexibility. Does he recognise that he has to address the crisis in morale to stem the tide of people leaving the NHS?

It is simply not correct to say that this is simply about flexibility—for example, look at the very significant changes made on pension tax. That was the No.1 demand of the British Medical Association consultants committee, and the Government agreed to it. A significant amount of work is going on. The NHS people plan talked about not just flexibility but some of the cultural points that are important. Some roles that have been introduced need to expand, such as some of the advanced positions like advanced clinical nurse or physician associate, where there are opportunities for people to progress their careers. It is worth pointing out that, once again, not a single Welsh Labour MP has turned up to defend their party’s record in Wales. As we set out a long-term workforce plan, we are setting out that ambition for England, but we see very little from the Labour party in Wales.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on this welcome announcement. I was happy to join his celebration of the 75th anniversary in the most practical way by visiting the new children’s emergency department at the William Harvey Hospital in my constituency. It is opening for patients this week and will be extremely welcome. He will be aware that some of the problems of the NHS can be solved only if we solve problems in the social care system as well. I urge him to follow up this extremely useful and welcome workforce plan for NHS workers with a similar idea for the social care system, because unless we fix one, we will not fix the other.

My right hon. Friend makes a valid point about the integration between health and social care, and that was a flagship part of the reforms in 2022, which brought the NHS and social care together through the integrated care system. I join him in welcoming the news about William Harvey Hospital, which is extremely important to the local area. On social care more widely, we must also be cognisant of the differences. The NHS and social care employ roughly similar numbers at around 1.5 million people, but one is one employer and the other is 15,000 employers, so the dynamics between the two are different. The prioritisation of that integration is exactly right. That is why my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced up to £7.5 billion for social care in the autumn statement, recognising that what happens in social care has a big impact on discharge in hospitals and hospital flow, which in turn impacts on ambulance handovers.

After promises of new hospitals that have not got off the ground and 6,000 more GPs that never came to pass, it is fair to say that the British public will judge the Government on their actions not their words. Let me press the Secretary of State further on social care. He will remember that at the start of this year, people were dying in the back of ambulances and in hospital corridors, in part because people could not be discharged from hospitals into social care. If the Government believe, as I do, that we cannot fix the NHS if we do not fix social care, will he also bring forward a workforce plan for our social care sector?

That repeats the previous question, so I will not repeat the answer. It is slightly ironic to call for a plan for a new hospital programme and for a long-term workforce plan, and then criticise us when we deliver on both of those, as we have done with more than £20 billion of investment in the new hospitals programme, which we announced last month, £2.4 billion in the first ever long-term workforce plan and the biggest ever expansion of workforce training in the history of the NHS. Of course we need to take action in the short term to deal with the consequences of the pandemic. That is what our recovery plan does. The urgent emergency care plan that I announced in January takes specific action on demand management in the community. There are measures upstream on boosting capacity in emergency departments and downstream on things such as virtual wards. A huge amount of work is going on. We are putting more than £1 billion into 5,000 more permanent beds to get more bed capacity into hospitals. On social care, in the autumn statement the Chancellor committed up to £7.5 billion of further investment over two years, and it was part of our reforms to better integrate health and social care.

I welcome the NHS long-term workforce plan and in particular its emphasis on training, retention and reform. At the moment, about a quarter of NHS staff are recruited from abroad. Can the Secretary of State confirm to the House and my constituents that this plan enables the development of a strong pool of homegrown talent, so that we can reduce foreign recruitment more towards 10%, which would be a lot more sustainable for the long-term future of the NHS?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As we boost our domestic workforce training, there will be scope to reduce the number recruited internationally. From 1948 onwards, international recruitment has always played an important role in the NHS, and we are hugely grateful for the service offered by those recruited internationally, but we also recognise that as demography changes in other countries, there will be increasing competition for healthcare workers around the world, so it is right that we boost our domestic supply. That is what this plan does, and it is why this is a historic moment for the NHS in making that long-term commitment that will in turn reduce the demand on the international workforce.

I, too, add my condolences to the family of Bob Kerslake, who did excellent work in my borough tackling poverty. I would congratulate the Secretary of State on this announcement if it did not come 13 years into a Conservative Government. It is a bit like Bobby Ewing coming out of the shower, the way the Secretary of State is saying, “I’ve just realised there’s a crisis in the NHS.” We went into covid with 2.4 million people on waiting lists, which was a record. It is now up to 7.4 million. The report itself says that we have 154,000 fewer staff than we need today in the NHS. After 13 years in government, if the Tories really cared about the NHS, it would not be in the state it is in, would it?

The hon. Gentleman ignores the fact that since 2010, there has been a 25% increase in the NHS workforce. More than a quarter of a million more people now work in the NHS than was the case in 2010. There is a 50% increase in the number of consultants working in the NHS today compared with 2010, but the reality is that demand has increased as a result of an older population, advances in medicine and in particular the demands of the pandemic, and that is what we are responding to. We are also taking measures in parallel. We are on track to deliver our manifesto commitment for 50,000 more nurses, with 44,000 now in place. We also have beaten our manifesto target on primary care, with 29,000 additional roles in place. That means that people can get to the specialist they need, which in turn frees up GPs for those things that only GPs can do and ensures that patients can access care much more quickly.

According to the King’s Fund, the proportion of GDP taken by the NHS has increased in the past 50 years from 3.4% to 8.2%. On the same trajectory, in 50 years’ time, it will take a fifth of all our GDP. That is totally unsustainable, especially as someone’s only right, despite the fact they are paying ever increasing amounts of tax, is to join the back of the queue. I ask again: will the Secretary of State launch a study—and, if necessary, appoint a royal commission—on fundamental reform of the whole nature and funding of our health system, so that we can learn from every other developed country, such as Australia, France, Italy and Germany, where they unleash private sector investment into healthcare and give people rights to their healthcare, while ensuring that those who need it get free healthcare at the point of delivery?

I hope my right hon. Friend is pleased to see the measures we are taking with the Lord O’Shaughnessy review on clinical research trials to make it easier and faster to do research in the NHS. That in turn attracts private investment to the NHS. He will have seen the announcement I made on Tuesday of £96 million for 93 different research projects, such as at Great Ormond Street Hospital, where we have allocated £3.5 million for research into rare conditions in children. That translates into research that is then deployed, usually in adults. We are investing there, and we are screening 100,000 children through Genomics England. We have got a deal with Moderna and BioNTech so that we can have bespoke cancer vaccines. On Monday, we rolled out national lung cancer screening. Previously, in our most deprived communities we were detecting lung cancer late—80% were diagnosed late—but in those pilots we turned that on its head with 76% detected earlier.

I know that my right hon. Friend, as a former Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, will agree that by detecting earlier, not only are patient outcomes far better but treatment is far cheaper, whether that is for lung cancer or through our innovation on HIV screening in emergency departments picking up HIV in people who do not realise that they have it. When we treat it early, the patient outcomes are better, and it is fiscally much more sustainable. That is how we will address some of his concerns.

The Secretary of State could do something now—not in eight years’ time—to relieve the pressure on our NHS, and it has nothing to do with pension funds. Figures from the Royal College of General Practitioners show that 53% of GPs think they cannot work in a flexible way to balance family and work commitments. It is little wonder that GPs aged 35 to 44 are the biggest group on the retention scheme who are leaving the profession—it does not take a rocket scientist to work out that it is the mums.

When I asked the Secretary of State’s Department what he was doing to monitor flexible working and whether we are getting roles that people can do—not just sitting with their 16 hours but finding ways to work and balance family—it said that it did not monitor the situation. It was not even looking at it. We are losing brilliant staff and wasting billions of pounds, and we will have a delay before our constituents see the benefit of any workforce plan unless that changes. I have listened to him and looked at the statement that does not make a single mention of childcare, although he did refer to it in passing. What will he actually do not just for retirees but for doctors with families to get them back into the NHS so that we can all benefit?

I think there is actually a lot of agreement between the hon. Lady and I. She talked about the plan, and having read it a number of times—that is part of my role—I know that childcare is specifically referred to in the summary, no less, in terms of the key issues that it goes on to set out. It goes into detail about our proposals, including linking up to the NHS people plan and greater flexibility in terms of roles and people retiring. One aspect of the NHS Staff Council deal is the expansion of pension abatement rules. So there is a huge amount.

The hon. Lady calls for more flexibility. I set out a number of the areas, and she does not seem to realise that there are three sections to the plan, with the second being all about giving greater flexibility to help retain our staff. So the plan addresses the points she raises; that just does not seem to be the answer she wants to hear. As for flexibility being important to mums, yes it is, and the NHS has a largely female workforce, but it is also important to dads. It is important to all NHS staff that we have that flexibility.

The NHS today, at 1.4 million employees, is the fifth-largest employer in the world, and if the ambitions in this welcome plan are met, it will be the largest employer in the world. That raises the question of how effective the management of those human resources is. It is a little disappointing that there is so little commentary in the plan on two important management issues: the ambitions on improving the quality of management systems, and particularly clarification of decision rights and responsibilities; and the quality of accounting control systems and how the NHS seeks to improve them. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the NHS looks at those two important matters?

Those are both fair points. I know that my hon. Friend comes at this with great commercial experience, and I hope he knows that I have an interest in those issues. Just to reassure him, the plan is iterative; it is not a one-off. It is a framework from which we will do further work. Indeed, one of the areas that I am often criticised for is my interest in data and variation in data across the NHS—he and I probably agree on that more than some of those who are critical. That speaks to his point—the Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee’s point relates to this—that in a system the size of the NHS, data on the performance of the integrated care boards and their role in terms of the workforce is one area that the House will want to return to.

We know a Government are out of ideas when they copy the Opposition’s plan to train the doctors and nurses that the NHS so desperately needs. The majority of those policies will not be implemented until after the general election—long after the British public have booted the Conservatives out of power because of their industrial-scale incompetence, which included crashing the economy.

The Secretary of State will be aware that the NHS is short of more than 150,000 staff right now. Will he take responsibility for those shortages and admit that, had the Government acted more than a decade ago, the NHS would have the staff that it needs right now?

All I can say is that the hon. Gentleman clearly has not read the plan. If he had, he would have seen that it is developed by NHS England. That the Labour party is claiming authorship of it is slightly odd. As I pointed out in response to the shadow Health Minister, the hon. Member for Leicester West (Liz Kendall), Labour’s plan fails to mention reform at all, or GP training or physios. Our plan is 15 years, Labour’s is 10; it is a fraction of the size and it is flawed in many other ways. This plan has been developed by NHS England with contributions from 60 different organisations across the NHS. That is why it has been so widely welcomed by many in the NHS, who have called for it for some time.

We have a superb new accident and emergency in Scunthorpe, and we are pressing ahead with plans for a large, state-of-the-art community diagnostic centre. I have lived locally all my life, and those are some of the most significant upgrades we have seen in a generation. But there are things to do—we certainly need more NHS dentists. Would the Secretary of State consider a tie-in so that newly qualified dentists spend a minimum percentage of their time delivering NHS care?

I am pleased to see those services going into Scunthorpe. That underscores the investment we are making now while preparing for the long term, through the largest ever expansion in workforce training in the NHS’s history. My hon. Friend is right about the importance of tie-ins. Let me explain why that matters in particular for dentists: around two thirds of dentists do not go on to do NHS work. That is why the plan has looked at tie-ins for dentistry, which we will explore in the weeks and months ahead.[Official Report, 12 July 2023, Vol. 736, c. 7MC.]

Despite what the Secretary of State says, the Conservatives have finally admitted that they are out of ideas, and are adopting Labour’s workforce plan. The NHS is short of more than 150,000 staff right now. More worryingly, the plan includes no mention of eye health, despite the crisis. In ophthalmology, 80% of eye units do not have enough consultants to meet current demand. Will the Secretary of State say how many years it will take for the NHS to have enough ophthalmologists? Why will he not back my Bill for a national eye health strategy for England, which will seek to tackle the crisis in eye health?

The question started by saying that we do not want plans for the future, we want to deal with the present, and finished by asking if we can have a plan for the future rather than for the present. The plan sets out significant additional numbers. Significant investment is going into eye services here and now. Let me give the House one example: at King’s Lynn hospital, in addition to our investment in a new hospital to replace the reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete hospital, and in addition to the new diagnostic centre, I had the opportunity in the summer to open a new £3 million eye centre, which is doubling the number of patients who receive eye care in King’s Lynn. That is just one practical example of our investment in eye services now.

May I add my words of condolence for Lord Kerslake, who served on the greater Grimsby regeneration board, which oversees regeneration in the Grimsby-Cleethorpes area? We greatly valued his experience and advice. Following the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Holly Mumby-Croft), it is important that we tie in dentists—and I would suggest GPs—to NHS services, but could they also be directed to areas of greatest need, such as northern Lincolnshire?

The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Neil O'Brien) is looking at how we deliver more services within the existing contract, and at what incentives and reforms can be put in place to ensure that the parts of the country that find it hardest to recruit dentists are best able to do so, through both our domestic supply and international recruitment.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement and the positivity he is trying to bring forward. The NHS workforce plan has concluded that the number of places in medical schools each year will rise from some 7,500 to 10,000, but in Northern Ireland it is a very different story: I know it is a devolved matter, but the Royal College of Nursing is facing cuts that could result in the number of places falling to 1,025 per academic year. Will the extra money that the Secretary of State announced be subject to Barnett consequentials? I know he is always keen to promote all this great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland together, so what discussions has he had with the Northern Ireland Department of Health and the Northern Ireland Assembly to ensure that Northern Ireland is not left behind? When we are crying out for staff, our students should have a real opportunity to learn and work in the NHS field.

Barnett consequentials will apply to the £2.4 billion funding over the five years. In respect of new roles, regulatory changes apply on a UK-wide basis. The plan itself is for the NHS in England, but we stand ready to work with partners across the United Kingdom where there is shared learning on which we can work together.

I am really pleased to see the 50% increase in the number of annual training places for GPs—it is music to my ears—but they will need somewhere to work. The £20 billion for the hospital programme is great, but when I look at section 106 applications for my constituency, I still see health getting a tiny proportion compared with education and the environment. May I have an assurance from the Secretary of State that as we increase the number of GPs in the primary care team, they will not have to scrabble around trying to get little bits of money for planning applications here and there, but that there will be a guaranteed capital budget for new doctors, in the way that we are sorting that out for hospitals?

My hon. Friend raises a perfectly valid point. As we expand the primary care workforce, there is a capital consequence. The 50% expansion he talks about builds on the expansion from 2,100 in training in 2014 to 4,000 now, so there has already been an expansion, but we are taking that further by 50%—and on the higher figure. His point about section 106 applications is absolutely valid, and that is part of the primary care recovery plan. I understand that he is discussing the importance of getting that funding in place with the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough.

Given the number of pressures and crises that our NHS faces, it would be a mistake for the Secretary of State to be seen as complacent in how he delivered his workforce plan. Our job as MPs is to speak the truth to power, so I want to raise with him the lack of cancer treatment capacity, particularly in radiotherapy. International comparators suggest that between 55% and 60% of cancer patients should be able to access radiotherapy either directly or in tandem with other treatments. Currently, only 27% do. What is the Secretary of State doing to increase the size of the highly specialised and relatively small radiotherapy workforce? The target is for 85% of patients to start their first treatment within 62 days of an urgent GP referral. What is the current figure?

To take the hon. Gentleman’s first point, the plan does not get into individual specialties. That was a Health Committee recommendation, which I have discussed with the Committee’s Chair, my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Steve Brine). There is a clear reason for that. Within the framework of numbers, the impact of AI and service design will evolve over the 15 years, so it is right that we commit to the number and then the NHS take that work forward with individual specialities and have discussions with the royal colleges.

The hon. Gentleman made a perfectly valid point about boosting capacity. We have already rolled out 108 of the 160 community diagnostic centres that we have committed to deliver. We are also looking to innovate, and I will give two practical examples. Our deal with Moderna, which is looking at individual bespoke vaccines for hard to treat cancers such as pancreatic cancer, will allow us to get ahead on that. We are already seeing a significant reduction in cervical cancer as a result of prevention measures. Likewise, by going into deprived communities with a high preponderance of smoking, the lung cancer screening programme is detecting lung cancer, which often presents late, much earlier, which in turn is having a significant impact on survival rates.

I recently met a constituent who raised the issue of children’s oral health and shared with me her concerns about the staffing crisis in specialist paediatric dentistry. According to the Government’s own statistics, which were released in March, 29.3% of five-year-olds in England have enamel and/or dentinal decay, and the figure was as high as 38.7% in the north-west. The workforce plan talks of expanding dentistry training places by 24% by 2028-29, and by 40% by 2031-32. I note the Secretary of State’s response to my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame Morris). However, there is no specific mention of specialist paediatric dentistry in the plan, so what will the Secretary of State do to help those children who are desperate for specialist dental treatment right now?

Without repeating my previous answer on specialty, we are boosting a number of areas. There are 5,000 more doctors and almost 13,000 more nurses this year than last year. I have already touched on increasing the numbers in primary care. There are 44,000 more nurses, so we are on track to deliver our manifesto target of 50,000. There are 25% more within the workforce of the NHS compared with 2010. We are boosting the workforce overall. The plan is iterative and further work will go into which specialities are developed and how resource is prioritised as services are redesigned.

The Secretary of State will be aware that the recruitment and retention issues facing the NHS are particularly bad in rural areas. We felt the brunt of that in North Shropshire, with some of the worst ambulance waiting times, cancer treatment rates and diabetic care rates in the country. The plan does not go into much detail on what will be done to help rural areas, but it does acknowledge that by 2037, a third of all over-85s will live in rural places. I urge the Secretary of State to rural-proof this plan and to find ways to work on both the retention and the recruitment of healthcare professionals across the whole spectrum in North Shropshire and the rest of rural Britain.

The hon. Lady raises a fair point. It also applies to the issue of stroke. The elderly population has increased in many coastal and rural communities. That has created significant pressure: for legacy reasons, services are often in other parts of the country. We have five new medical schools in place, and we have looked at those parts of the country where it is often hard to recruit. Part of the expansion will be to look further at what services are needed in different areas. The hon. Lady’s point also speaks to that raised by the Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee. By giving greater autonomy to place-based commissioning through the integrated care systems, we will enable people at a more local level to design the services and the workforce that they need, and that includes the flexibilities required to retain local staff.

I welcome the workforce plan. Given that it has taken 13 years, one tends to wonder why it has taken so long, but then of course we remember that there is a general election on the horizon.

Page 121 sets out a labour productivity rate of 1.5% to 2% per year. That has never been achieved by the NHS or any other comparable health system, so what assumptions is the Health and Social Care Secretary making in relation to achieving that?

First, this is a plan developed by colleagues in NHS England, so these are assumptions that have been agreed by those who lead within the NHS. It is about ensuring that people operate at the top of their licence. It is about having new and expanded roles, such as advanced practitioners and associate roles, that allow people to progress in their careers and, in doing so, freeing up capacity for senior clinicians, who often spend time doing things that do not need to be done by people in those roles.

Of course, there are also rapid changes in technology. We often talk about the developments in artificial intelligence, and I have touched on developments in the life sciences industry. I have also mentioned advances in screening and genomics. All those developments will in turn help us to prevent health conditions, and treating those conditions early will be not only better for the patient, but better value for money for the taxpayer.

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement, and for responding to questions for 59 minutes.