Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:50 pm on 14th May 2019.

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Photo of Derek Thomas Derek Thomas Conservative, St Ives 5:50 pm, 14th May 2019

I completely agree with my hon. Friend, and I attended a conference 18 months ago at which the podiatrists and Plymouth University mentioned the risk of this happening. We are now seeing that prophecy being fulfilled. I appreciate what my hon. Friend says about what has been done to improve the pathway and reduce lower limb amputations. We must not see that good work reversed.

When it comes to caring for our feet, we are heading for a perfect storm. Fewer people are going into training because of financial barriers, and in 10 years we will see an enormous amount of podiatrists retiring from the profession. That adds up to a real challenge that we need to address quickly. I ask the Minister to look at what has happened since the nursing bursary was removed for mature students and whether we can address that.

The impact on patients is severe. Type 2 diabetes is the fastest growing health threat facing our nation, and 3 million people are living with it. That figure is set to reach 4 million by 2030. Diabetic foot care costs the NHS in England between £1.1 billion and £1.3 billion a year—£5.7 million per clinical commissioning group. It accounts for £1 in every £100 spent, more than the combined cost of three of the four most common cancers. Some 80% of the 135 lower extremity amputations each week in England are preventable through good foot care, and the Government have made a commitment in legislation and policy to provide safe care. That is just one example of how, if we do not get this right, we will fail to avoid the impact on patients of more lower limb amputations and lower life expectancy. The facts show that after a lower limb amputation, life expectancy is reduced to about five years.

There is also an impact on the NHS. I have mentioned the sheer cost of caring for lower limb problems, and it will have an impact on multidisciplinary teams if we do not keep people with the skills coming through. It will also have an impact on budgets. As well as the impact on social care and on the budgets for those delivering support in people’s homes, making changes around a home because someone has had a lower limb amputation is a costly affair that is easily avoided if we get it right and get enough podiatrists on the ground.

There is an urgent need for action. I ask the Government to look at why mature students are uniquely impacted when going to study these important professions. If a mature student is on any sort of benefit—housing benefit or other financial support—the minute they take out a student loan to study to be a podiatrist, they lose all that support. Perhaps the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Work and Pensions need to look at that, because that is a significant barrier to people coming into a skill we so badly need.

I ask the Minister to look at solutions to reverse the reduction of mature students going into important parts of the NHS such as podiatry so that we can save money for the future, to be used where needed, and provide a real opportunity to improve people’s lives.