An increasing number of chiropodists are working in the NHS and entering training. Since 1999, the number of qualified chiropodists and podiatrists employed in the NHS has increased by 13 per cent., and the number of students has increased by 33 per cent.
People are not being forced to leave. Many primary care trusts are choosing to focus specialist podiatrist services on those in greatest need, while organising other methods of access to services such as nail cutting. That is the change that is taking place, and it is a perfectly rational one.
I accept my hon. Friend's point that the change is a rational one, but does he agree that somebody who is suffering pain as a result of such a condition should not be excluded from NHS treatment?
Despite what the Minister says, the latest Government figures clearly show that the number of patients receiving chiropody care in the NHS has fallen significantly in recent years, and that many hundreds of thousands of mostly elderly patients are being denied any form of NHS foot care altogether. The Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists has confirmed that many patients are simply being bumped off waiting lists. I put it to the Minister that there is a lottery in chiropody care, as a result of which many elderly patients are needlessly suffering. Will he now stop blaming the PCTs, which have to juggle a number of Government targets and priorities—chiropody is not one of them—stop ignoring the situation, and do something to put it right?
It sounds to me like the hon. Gentleman is asking for a target. The figures that we collect cannot be used in any way, shape or form to draw the conclusions that he draws, which are a complete distortion of, and misuse of, those figures. What the statistics do show is that the level of access to chiropody services is stable and has been for many years.