Given that it costs £5,000 to replace every nurse who leaves the national health service in Wales, will the Minister explain why the Government have allowed the number of nurses and midwives employed by the health service in Wales to fall by almost 3,500 in the past six years? Does not that turnover place a massive financial burden on the health service and demonstrate the Government's complete failure to improve the morale of those dedicated carers?
I very much recognise the contribution that nurses and midwives make to the national health service in Wales, but I do not necessarily recognise the picture that the hon. Gentleman would wish to paint. Since 1979, there has been a 27 per cent. increase in the number of nurses and midwives employed by the national health service in Wales. He may wish to welcome especially the fact that the number of nurses in training this year has been increased by 25 per cent. and the fact that we have committed expenditure to increase that by a further 11 per cent. in the next financial year.
If the Government had introduced a minimum working wage and abolished competitive tendering in the national health service, would we have been able to increase the number of midwives and nurses in Wales by 27 per cent. since 1979?
Clearly, competitive tendering has helped significantly in taking out unnecessary expenditure and allowing that money to be used at the bedside, where it is most important and where it has contributed significantly to the continuing increase in the number of patients treated. I know that this subject can be bedevilled by statistics, but it is worth remembering the remarkable achievement of the national health service in Wales, which treats 60 per cent. more patients in Welsh hospitals than it did in 1979.
Is the Minister aware that one of the great problems with the loss of professional nurses is that some of our specialist departments have lost some of their most valuable staff? Those include physiotherapists working at Talygarn in my constituency, and other similar institutions, which have done sterling work over the years in helping to heal victims of strokes and car crashes. How does the Minister intend to ensure that places such as Talygarn, with such great records, continue into the future so that those professionals can find places to train?
I share the thrust of the hon. Gentleman's question, and I agree with what he says about Talygarn. We are considering the generality of specialist areas, including coronary care and intensive treatment units, at the moment. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will welcome the fact that we have already committed an extra £800,000 to the initiative for registered sick children's nurses, and we are increasing that by a further £250,000.
Is it any wonder that nurses are leaving the NHS in droves when the present ludicrously unequal pay system has left them struggling to get a 3 per cent. rise while one NHS trust has increased the pay of its chief executive from £80,000 to £91,000 this year—an increase of 14.5 per cent? Is that not yet another example of the NHS being run for the benefit of the few and not of the many?
I know that all my right hon. and hon. Friends will have spotted the glaring omission: the hon. Gentleman had the opportunity to come back to the Dispatch Box and tell us about Labour's intention to match our commitment to increasing real spending on the health service. Nurses and midwives at least have the security of knowing that we shall continue to increase that money in real terms; they can have no such confidence in the Labour party.