NHS: Staffing Levels

Part of Cat Welfare – in Westminster Hall at 5:21 pm on 11th December 2018.

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Photo of Philippa Whitford Philippa Whitford Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Health and Social Care) 5:21 pm, 11th December 2018

It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I, too, declare an interest as a longstanding NHS worker of more than 30 years.

Healthcare is not delivered by machines or buildings; it is delivered by people. People are the core of the NHS. The problem relates to workforce, and it is hitting all four nations. Although Scotland has the highest ratio of every group of healthcare staff per head of population, we too face challenges. We have a 4.8% nurse vacancy rate in Scotland, but in England it is more than 11.5%. The Royal College of Nursing says that there are 41,000 nurse vacancies at the moment, and if action is not taken, that will rise to 48,000.

As other Members mentioned, since the introduction of the bursary in 2015, there has been a one third drop in applications. Acceptances in England have gone down by almost 4%, whereas in Scotland they have gone up by almost 14.5% over the same period. The bursary is having a huge impact, particularly on mature students, who might already have a degree and have therefore also been hit by the removal of the post-graduate bursary that allows a nurse to be trained in just two years.

There has been a 15% drop in mature students, which is hitting those with mental health issues and learning disabilities in particular, as those specialities tend to attract the more mature nurse student. There has been a 13% drop in mental health nursing staff and a 40% drop in nurses looking after those with learning disabilities. That makes those services unsustainable.

Brexit is affecting the workforce, as it is every other aspect of life. There has been a 90% drop in European nurses registering to come and work in the UK, and a trebling of EU nurses who are leaving the UK register. That does not help to solve the problem, and those nurses cannot be totally replaced by UK staff in enough time. It does not matter that the Government come out with warm words if the Home Office’s actions make people feel insecure. Friends of ours who have been GPs for more than 20 years in Scotland applied for citizenship for their children. The eldest and youngest children were granted it; the middle child was refused. What are they now talking about? “Maybe we should go back to Germany where we’d be safe.”

From every angle, the Government are taking actions that are making staffing levels worse. The former Secretary of State for Health, Mr Hunt, used to go on about the lack of junior doctors and consultants as a cause of excess deaths among those admitted at weekends. Actually, the only staffing impact proven through research is on the ratio of registered nurses to patients—not healthcare assistants or others.