There is no nationally agreed complement of nursing staff in Scotland. The number of nursing staff employed is a matter for determination by each health board having regard to the requirements of the area and the resources available. At 31st March 1975 there were 47,550 nursing staff—whole-time equivalents—employed in the hospital service and approximately 3,700 in the community nursing services.
I thank my hon. Friend for his recent assurance that all the student and pupil nurses at Lennox Castle and Waverley Park hospitals will be offered continued employment in those hospitals. However, on the more general question of nursing recruitment, will my hon. Friend bear in mind that any staffing cuts as a result of the present economic situation might create a permanent gap in the National Health Service, because, when the economy eventually picks up, potential nursing recruits might be attracted to more financially rewarding jobs in, for example, industry and commerce? Does my hon. Friend agree that the present economic recession is an ideal time to step up nursing recruitment instead of reducing it?
I appreciate my hon. Friend's concern. This is a matter for the health boards. The total number of nursing staff in post on 31st March last year showed an increase over the previous six months of approximately 7 per cent. I am not aware of any proposal to reduce the number of qualified nursing staff, although the number has increased in the past year. In my hon. Friend's constituency the Forth Valley Health Board has had an increase of 9·2 per cent. as against the national increase of 7·7 per cent over the past year.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the problem that is arising in places such as Dumfries, where, because of the centralisation of all the main hospitals in the one town, the pool of nursing talent has been scooped clean? Will the hon. Gentleman consider decentralising the facilities that we are hoping to obtain in Dumfries and Galloway for the mentally handicapped and take another look at the provision of domiciliary services in the mentally handicapped sector?