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Allied Health Professionals: Training

Volume 768: debated on Monday 8 February 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with Health Education England to ensure that the number of student commissions for 2016–17 supports the goal of increasing the number of student places for allied health professionals set out in the comprehensive spending review, and ensures stability in allied health professionals’ education provision and workforce supply.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and I declare an interest as the honorary president of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy.

My Lords, Health Education England plans to commission, overall, 7,554 AHP training places in 2016-17—an increase of 344, or 4.8%, compared to 2015-16. The announcement in the 2015 spending review to move nursing, midwifery and AHP students on to the standard student loan system is for new students commencing their courses from 2017 only and therefore does not affect students commencing their courses in 2016-17.

Do the Government recognise that 500 more physiotherapy places will be needed in training each year until 2020 just to meet current needs? With Health Education England proposing cuts in training places in six out of 10 of the allied health professions—cuts ranging from 3.4% to 9.7%—how will the new models of care in prevention, patient treatment and reablement be met, given that they depend on these professionals taking on extended roles? This goes across sectors commissioned by the NHS and by other departments, including the Department for Education, the Home Office and the Ministry of Defence.

My Lords, Health Education England is proposing a net increase of 334 places in 2016-17 and we expect a growth in overall numbers of nurses and AHPs from 2017 onwards as a result of moving on to the standard student loan system.

My Lords, will the Minister clarify that? He says that there is to be a net increase, but he will know that in relation to some specialties there is actually to be a reduction next year. This is a shambles. The Government have announced an increase in figures by 2020, but next year we are going to see an actual reduction in some of those places. What is going on?

My Lords, as I said, overall there is a small net increase of 334. That is largely for paramedics, where HEE believes that there is a more serious shortage than for other allied health professions. As I said, we have seen a significant increase in AHPs of more than 16% over the last five years and we expect that growth to continue after 2017.

My Lords, how will the Government achieve their objectives in relation to modernised cancer treatment and an enhanced role for radiographers when Health Education England is cutting the number of training places for therapeutic radiographers by 4.3%?

Actually, I think the number of radiographers is going up slightly. I will check, if I can, and write to the noble Baroness. It is also worth mentioning that the number of medical endoscopists is planned to go up by 200 over the next three years.

My Lords, while I welcome the 4.8% increase for the allied health professions, I deplore the fact that this increase is accompanied by really quite savage cuts in some of the professions concerned: 6% in the case of speech therapy. Does the Minister accept that our ageing population presents us with an increased incidence of stroke and dementia, and that the skills of speech therapists are essential to maintain and repair the language faculty? As a past president of the Royal College of Speech and Language, I urge the Government to think again. Is the Minister aware that costs would be far exceeded by benefits and that, for example, the west Birmingham rapid response team has saved the NHS more than £7 million a year by making unnecessary 17,000 bed days per annum?

My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Lord that the role of speech and language therapies, particularly in treating people with stroke and other serious conditions, is absolutely vital. Perhaps I may correct a previous answer that I gave to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. Therapeutic radiographers have gone down slightly but diagnostic radiographers will go up slightly.

My Lords, the Minister told us that the increase is among paramedics, which presumably balances the cuts in other areas. Is this the Government’s strategy for sorting out the problems in the ambulance service, which around the country is failing to meet emergency targets? Do the Government hope that by training some more paramedics, they will somehow solve the problem and money will magically become available for the ambulance service to function?

My Lords, having more paramedics is part of the solution, but the major part of the solution is to treat more people outside A&E departments, so that people do not require ambulances to take them into A&E departments but are treated at home.

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House how diabetic patients’ needs will be met by maintaining foot care and thereby decreasing the risk of amputations, given Health Education England’s proposed decrease in training places in podiatry of 9.7%? That is at the top end of the list which my noble friend Lady Finlay was talking about.

My Lords, I first extend my congratulations to the noble Baroness: it is her birthday today. I of course understand the vital importance of podiatrists. We are looking at a very small reduction in the planned number of training places next year of some 35 places. I would also make a more general point: in the mandate to Health Education England, we have set it a target of reducing the attrition rate among people starting training by 50%.