It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, and I congratulate Tracy Brabin on having secured this important debate. I have a little bit of a family connection to the NHS, as I am the daughter of a GP, but it is an honour to follow colleagues of all parties who have direct experience of working in the NHS. I welcome their having shared that experience with us.
Staffing levels in the NHS are an important issue, which affects my local NHS trust in Worcestershire as well. I am in close contact with that trust and with staff at the Alexandra hospital in Redditch, and I very much hear that concern; I hear it from my constituents all the time. I agree that it is essential that we increase the NHS workforce at all levels, from nurses to consultants and, particularly, GPs. We are now in a situation in which demand is rising fast: the population is growing, it is ageing, and people are living longer. That is partly due to the success of our fantastic NHS, and the doctors and nurses who work within it, but it does create one of the biggest problems that the NHS faces.
I must have met every Minister in the Department of Health and Social Care over the past few months, and I am looking forward to meeting the Secretary of State later today, when I will be pressing for more details about a welcome capital investment in breast cancer services at the Alexandra hospital and across Worcestershire. There has also been more investment in my local hospital, to keep the frailty unit open and open a new urgent care centre. However, all those services have to be staffed, and we need the stability and security of knowing they will continue to be there, serving my constituents. I welcome those changes, but in previous meetings, I have consistently pressed the issue of staffing levels. I am encouraged that the Government are focused on meeting these challenges and providing the NHS with the workforce we need it to have.
At the moment, one of the biggest recruitment drives in the NHS’s history is taking place, which intends to increase the number of doctors and nurses trained in the NHS by 25%—an increase of 1,500 places a year. Steps such as those will play a crucial role in supporting the future NHS workforce, but as Members have highlighted the immediate pressures are still here and must be addressed now. Nowhere is this issue more acute than in general practice, and I often write to constituents who have complained about the waiting times for seeing their GP. Since becoming the MP for Redditch in 2017, I have pushed for change; I am pleased that the Government are listening and now intend to hire 5,000 more GPs and 5,000 additional GP staff by 2020.
I also welcome the fact that the Home Office has exempted doctors and nurses from the tier 2 visa quota system for non-EEA skilled migrant workers. That will enable the NHS to recruit more quickly and widely, especially considering that NHS recruitment demands account for 40% of tier 2 places. I welcome the fact that the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care have said time and again that we must get the message out: we want EU nationals to stay in this country, and we need them in our NHS. That has been unilaterally guaranteed by this country, with or without a deal, so please let us get that message out to our wonderful NHS staff.
There are positive steps, and the progress that has already been made should be welcomed. In my county of Worcestershire, the total number of staff employed rose by almost 7% between August 2013 and August of this year, to over 5,000. [Interruption.]
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.