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I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. We have touched on the impact of the nursing bursary on a number of occasions, and Labour has a commitment to restore it. There are also implications for the ongoing training and continuing professional development for nurses and other health professionals who wish to specialise. The budgets available for those kinds of initiatives are being continually squeezed.
Turning back to the issue of overseas recruitment, it is worrying to hear that there is a block on recruiting trained and “ready to go” staff from other parts of the world, because it is evident from the numbers we have talked about today, and not only in this area but in other areas across the NHS, that there is a funding crisis and a recruitment crisis. Actually, staff in some of the disciplines that we have talked about do the essential behind-the-scenes work that helps us to reach patients that bit quicker and makes the targets easier to meet.
Only yesterday, Macmillan Cancer Support released research showing that hospitals in England have more than 400 specialist vacancies for cancer nurses, chemotherapy nurses, palliative care nurses and cancer support workers. Macmillan said that cancer patients were losing out, with delays in their receiving chemotherapy, and that cancer nurses were being “run ragged”, as they were forced to take on heavier workloads because of rota gaps. It also reported that vacancy rates for some specialist nurses are as high as 15% in some areas. Clearly, those kinds of gaps will have an impact on our efforts to achieve the outcomes that we all want to deliver.
There is little doubt that we would enjoy much more success in meeting some of our aims, particularly in the cancer strategy, if the workforce had the resources they need. We welcomed the publication of the cancer workforce plan in December, although we would have liked to have seen it much earlier. I would be grateful if the Minister could update us on the progress of that plan, if he has time to do so when he responds to the debate.
More generally, the “two years on” progress report on the cancer strategy was published last October, and it set out some of the progress that has been made, but we are now six months on from that. Again, if the Minister has an opportunity, I would be grateful if he could provide us with an update. If he is unable to do so today, could he indicate when the next formal update will be available?
In conclusion, it is wholly unacceptable that we continue to lag behind many of our neighbours with regard to outcomes, but I believe that, with the right funding, the right strategy and support from the Government, the situation can change. I hope that the Minister, when he responds to the debate, will confirm that there are plans to put in place the world-class services that our patients truly deserve.