NHS: Staffing Levels

Part of Cat Welfare – in Westminster Hall at 4:47 pm on 11th December 2018.

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Photo of Daniel Poulter Daniel Poulter Conservative, Central Suffolk and North Ipswich 4:47 pm, 11th December 2018

I will not, because of the time limit and because I want to let other people speak; I am sure that we can talk about this issue in detail after the debate.

Very briefly, Mr Hollobone, the Government have made a number of promises about NHS staffing and yet, unfortunately, those promises are failing to come to fruition. In 2015, there was a promise of 5,000 more GPs. Recently, I submitted a written parliamentary question about how much progress had been made in realising that target but I did not get an adequate answer. I would be grateful if the Minister updated us in his concluding remarks by saying how close we are to realising that target of 5,000 additional full-time GPs.

I would also like to highlight some of the challenges in community and mental health services. Very often in this Chamber, we talk about hospitals, and very often the NHS is seen through the prism of that acute sector, but the key challenge to keeping people out of hospital is doing more in the community, building up community mental and physical health services—and they are the very services that are seeing reductions in frontline staff.

I want to touch briefly on mental health. We know that the number of full-time-equivalent mental health nurses fell by 6,000 between 2010 and March 2018, including a reduction of more than 1,800 in learning disability nurses alone. The number of child and adolescent mental health service and learning disability consultant psychiatrists has also slightly declined over the past decade, and many parts of the country, particularly outside London, are struggling to fill higher registrar training posts in those services.

Perhaps more concerning is that the number of junior doctors in specialist psychiatry training—core and higher psychiatric trainees who will become the consultant psychiatrists of tomorrow—has also fallen, by 490 full-time equivalent doctors, from 3,187 in 2009 to 2,697 in March 2018. [Interruption.] The civil servants are rapidly checking my figures; they are from answers to parliamentary questions, so they are absolutely correct.

That is a woeful record of decline in the psychiatric and mental health workforce, and it must be corrected. If the Government are serious about their rhetoric on mental health, about improving the quality of provision for people with poor mental health, they need to recognise that the workforce has already declined. Even if there is the promised increase in numbers, it will be from a lower baseline than that of about a decade ago.

The only way to deliver the expansion in services that patients deserve—for example, specialist eating disorder services in Cumbria or East Anglia—is by having a much more serious approach to the recruitment and retention of mental health staff and by paying premiums to attract both doctors to work in CAMHS and people to work in parts of the country where there is a shortage of mental health staff. I look forward to the Minister’s response.