The number of qualified nurses and midwives registered as unemployed in England in December 1977 was about 100 lower than in September, and now stands at 4,013. Posts are available in the National Health Service for qualified nurses but some may be unable or unwilling to move to areas where there are vacancies. Health authorities are well aware of the need to help newly qualified nurses to find posts.
Does my hon. Friend agree that these difficulties are wholly unacceptable and indefensible and that the forecasts of increased public expenditure in the White Paper leave us with little consolation?
Will he tell us what he thinks the trend will be in unemployment among nurses, particularly mental health nurses, in the next three or four years?
On my hon. Friend's latter question, the level is obviously higher that we would like to see. However, in December, the same month, over 2,000 vacancies for qualified nurses were registered with the Employment Services Agency. I cannot forecast trends, much as I would like to be able to do so. I do not think that the Department has the requisite information. We can only hope that as the economic situation improves more financial resources will be made available to the National Health Service.
Is it not a fact that over the last 10 years the number of beds occupied in hospitals has declined by 13 per cent. whilst the number of administrators and clerks has risen by 51 per cent.? If only we could get rid of this monstrous army of clerks we could afford to pay the nurses. Is this not a crying scandal, which deserves the personal attention of the Minister?
On the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I have taken steps to reduce to a reasonable level administration costs in the reorganised National Health Service—a reorganisation not of our making. In answer to the second part of the question, the number of qualified nurses employed in the National Health Service has continued to increase. There were 214,000 qualified nurses employed in March of last year, which was an increase of 9,000 on the previous year.
Is my hon. Friend aware that absolute panic action was taken in October 1976 by area health authorities which led to nurses not being up to establishment strength? Is he also aware that there are other parts of the National Health Service which are still being starved merely because of those measures? Will he alter them?
It is for area health authorities to decide their establishments; it is not for my Department to do so. Area health authorities have to take into account the availability of staff in determining the level of the services that they can provide. They have to determine how they spend their budgets in the light of their own priorities. In the financial year ended March 1977 health authorities increased the proportion of their revenue expenditure which was spent on nurses.
Does the Minister accept that unemployment among nurses is now seriously affecting the waiting lists and that some patients are waiting well over a month for urgent investigations? Will he admit that the Secretary of State's statement to the House on 22nd November was grossly misleading and that the increased £9½ million was bogus? Will he say when he will publish the results of his inquiry into waiting lists and tell us exactly what steps he is to take?