New Clause 27 - Duty as to workforce and training innovation

Part of Health and Care Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:15 pm on 27 October 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care) 5:15, 27 October 2021

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Kingswood on his excellent new clauses and the case that he has made for them. We strongly agree that the training and development of staff ought to be to the fore. We must take the opportunity of understanding that we have a workforce crisis at a time of significant technological development.

Take cancer services, for example. We are all concerned about gaps in cancer provision. We need to take the opportunity to turbo-leap forward, rather than trying to restore services to where they were pre-pandemic, when targets were being missed, and had been missed for a number of years. Let us train and develop our staff to use new and innovative approaches, such as new radiotherapies. There is real opportunity there. With respect to new clause 27, the right hon. Gentleman makes a strong case for harnessing the ability of our universities and colleges, and putting that together with our workforce to develop and improve our services.

On new clause 28, the right hon. Gentleman mentioned the paradox of us having profound workforce shortages—in August, there were about 94,000 vacancies, including for nearly 40,000 nurses—while 14,000 applicants were not accepted on to nursing courses in 2018. I understand that there was a significant increase in 2019, but it was not big enough to meet our shortfalls, so that is a real paradox. Our services are not sustainable until and unless we take deliberate action to increase capacity. I know that the right hon. Gentleman does not intend to push the new clause to a Division, but I hope to hear from the Minister about what conscious decisions are being taken. This concerns not just those big courses either, but smaller ones, such as paramedic science and radiography. University Alliance members have reported 1,000 applications for 40 to 50 places, so there is demand. Of course, they cannot just take everybody and there has to be a filtering process, but it feels very over-geared to have 20 or 25 times the applicants per place.

I will not repeat the right hon. Gentleman’s arguments about GPs, but they were good. We should use this moment to change our approach to how we grow our GPs. What do we know about GPs? We know that we do not have enough of them, and that we certainly will not have enough of them in five or 10 years’ time. We know that certain communities find it particularly hard to attract GPs, but also that GPs tend to stay where they train or, if not, they are more likely to go back to where they grew up. As part of any so-called levelling up, we need to focus on growing our own GPs in poorer communities such as mine, and similar midlands communities—perhaps you share some of that vision, Mr McCabe—but we do not quite put this together.

Many of my constituents tend to enter education quite a way behind; they really close the gap over their 14 years of formal education, but fall just short of those very high standards that are needed at the age of 18 to go on to university. Should we be writing off those young people? Could we be doing better at getting them on courses to be GPs? I suspect that we would be able to retain them in Nottingham, or at least attract them back there, and to the surrounding towns, which desperately need GPs. Similarly—this is not a long-term answer, but it is certainly one for the short term—one of my foundational moments in my views on migration came from working in a shop the year after finishing school and before going to university. I was often on the rota with a man from Iraq, who was a trained civil engineer in Iraq, but could not afford to convert his qualification. He could not work in that field and instead worked with me in that shop. It always seemed to me like a significant waste of his skills.

I will take this moment to plug a wonderful project in Nottingham called the phoenix programme, in which students at the University of Nottingham School of Medicine work with migrants to this country who have medical qualifications at home but cannot practise because they need to convert the qualifications and often cannot afford to. Those medical students are working on language, functional skills and all the different aspects of the exams that those individuals will take, in order to help those people become doctors in this country. What a wonderful thing to do.

If we think about however many hundreds of thousands it costs to train a GP in this country, we realise what a saving they are making for us, too. I think that is a wonderful thing. We need that level of creativity on workforce in order to deal with our gap.

I will make no further points—I do not want to repeat what the right hon. Member for Kingswood said—but if those are not going to be the answers, I hope we hear from the Minister what the answer is. If we go for more of the same, we will just see growing workforce gaps and we really will have profound problems in our health service.