NHS Staff Recruitment and Retention

Oral Answers to Questions — Health – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 11th October 2016.

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Photo of Imran Hussain Imran Hussain Shadow Minister (International Development) 12:00 am, 11th October 2016

What steps he plans to take to address shortfalls in staff recruitment and retention in the NHS.

Photo of Philip Dunne Philip Dunne The Minister of State, Department of Health

I join the Secretary of State in welcoming the dedication and commitment of everyone who works in the NHS. We are taking active steps to encourage more people to become doctors, nurses and support staff. Only last week, my right hon. Friend announced a commitment to recruit an additional 25% of doctors to train in the NHS, which is 1,500 more doctors on top of the 6,000 currently trained every year.

Photo of Imran Hussain Imran Hussain Shadow Minister (International Development)

Net temporary and agency staff expenditure has risen by 40% since 2013. It accounted for 8% of total staff expenditure in 2015-16, which equates to £4.13 billion. Does the Minister agree that rising agency costs point to a recruitment crisis, and will he make a statement to the House outlining his plans to address that crisis?

Photo of Philip Dunne Philip Dunne The Minister of State, Department of Health

We recognise, absolutely, that bills for agency staff have become unsustainable, which is why we have taken deliberate action, including by introducing price caps on hourly rates last November, which has had a significant impact on reducing agency costs. In the year to date, agency costs are some £550 million less than they were last year.

Photo of Jeremy Lefroy Jeremy Lefroy Conservative, Stafford

I welcome last week’s announcement about the increase in the number of medical school places. What plans does the Department have to ensure that there are sufficient clinical training places for those medical students?

Photo of Philip Dunne Philip Dunne The Minister of State, Department of Health

I can reassure my hon. Friend that there is considerable excess demand from UK-based students to train to become a clinician in this country—only half of those who apply to train in medical school are accepted at present—so we are confident that there will be plenty of take-up for those extra places. With regard to clinical placements, we are in discussions with universities, colleges and teaching hospitals to ensure that there are adequate numbers of places.

Photo of Philippa Whitford Philippa Whitford Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Health)

I welcome the 25% expansion in medical student places, but I reject tying that to the elimination of 25% of overseas doctors who currently work in our NHS. With 10% of posts unfilled and ever-rising patient demand, the Secretary of State must know that we will always need international graduates in the future. Does he not recognise that he is creating unrealistic expectations and conflict with this idea of a British-only medical service?

Photo of Philip Dunne Philip Dunne The Minister of State, Department of Health

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving me the opportunity to set the record straight and stop this scaremongering, which is undoubtedly unsettling many of the very valuable doctors, nurses and other foreign nationals who are currently providing vital services to the NHS. Last week’s announcement was about adding more doctors to be trained who are UK-based. We are not changing any of the present arrangements for international students being trained here, or doctors and nurses working here.

Photo of Philippa Whitford Philippa Whitford Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Health)

The Government might not be changing their position right now, but with one in 10 posts currently unfilled, and given the rhetoric used last week, how does the Minister expect us even to retain foreign doctors, let alone attract them to fill those posts?

Photo of Philip Dunne Philip Dunne The Minister of State, Department of Health

There was no rhetoric used. In making that announcement, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister used no rhetoric whatsoever regarding the very valuable contribution of foreign clinicians to our health service, and that remains the case.

Photo of Nicholas Boles Nicholas Boles Conservative, Grantham and Stamford

Staff shortages this summer led United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust to introduce a temporary closure of Grantham A&E, causing huge concern to my constituents. Will the Secretary of State agree to meet me and Jody Clark, the founder of a local campaign group, to discuss how we can resolve this unacceptable situation?

Photo of Philip Dunne Philip Dunne The Minister of State, Department of Health

I am well aware, from representations made by my hon. Friend and other neighbouring MPs, of the concerns that that has caused locally. The Secretary of State has already indicated to me that he does intend to meet my hon. Friend and campaigners in due course.

Photo of Jon Ashworth Jon Ashworth Shadow Secretary of State for Health

The Minister says that no rhetoric or scaremongering was used last week. Can he explain to the House what the Prime Minister meant when she said:

“there will be staff here from overseas in the interim period until the further numbers of British doctors are trained and come on board in terms of being able to work in our hospitals”?

What did that mean? What should we expect next—ambulances plastered with “Go home” slogans?

Photo of Philip Dunne Philip Dunne The Minister of State, Department of Health

That is exactly the kind of ill-judged remark I have been talking about, and I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman has used it in his first appearance in his new post. By the way, I congratulate him on that new post, but I very much hope that he will use more measured language in the future, rather than spreading that kind of inappropriate rumour. The interim period referred to is the period during which doctors will be trained. We will not get new doctors coming in under the increased allocation until 2023, and during that time we will clearly need to use all measures to ensure that we fill the spaces that I acknowledge we have across several of our hospitals.

Photo of Jon Ashworth Jon Ashworth Shadow Secretary of State for Health

I appreciate the Minister’s warm welcome, and I can tell him that I am very much looking forward to shadowing the Secretary of State, but his comments on ill-judged remarks should be directed at the Prime Minister, not me. We have seen 8,000 fewer nurses, student nurse bursaries are set to be cut, there is a reliance on agency staff and a failure to train enough doctors, and now, after six years in office, the Government are talking about self-sufficiency. Given the concerns that these plans do not go far enough, will the Minister tell us what steps he will take to ensure that no staff from the EU lose their jobs, and will the NHS still be able to recruit from the EU if necessary post Brexit?

Photo of Philip Dunne Philip Dunne The Minister of State, Department of Health

Health Ministers have been very clear about reassuring all the 53,000 EU citizens working in our NHS that their roles are secure. Regarding clinicians, I remind the hon. Gentleman that, although we have some vacancy rates, which are acknowledged, we now have 7,800 more consultants employed in the NHS than in May 2010, 8,500 more doctors than in May 2010, and over 10,500 more nurses working on our wards. We have gone through a very consistent policy of recruiting more people to work in the NHS under this Government.