NHS: Staffing Levels

Part of Cat Welfare – in Westminster Hall at 5:31 pm on 11th December 2018.

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Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care) 5:31 pm, 11th December 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I thank Tracy Brabin for securing this debate. As she and hon. Members who have contributed to other such debates will know, the issues she raises are very similar to those that we discussed on 21 November in the debate that Justin Madders has just referred to. However, it is welcome to have the opportunity to discuss them again, because such debates reflect the importance that we all place on the NHS workforce. The one thing that the hon. Gentleman and I agree on is that it is right to begin by reiterating our thanks to the NHS professional staff for their work treating patients day in, day out.

I also thank other hon. Members for their contributions. I note in particular the comment rightly made by my hon. Friend Maria Caulfield that we need to upscale nurse degree apprenticeship routes. I will speak about that in more detail if I have time. My hon. Friend Rachel Maclean spoke about the capital announcement made last week, which I was pleased to see come through. My hon. Friend Dr Poulter made some points about mental health—may I offer him a meeting at the Department to discuss those matters directly, because today I want to concentrate on other matters? Rachael Maskell made a contribution based on her valuable experience.

I should say right at the outset, as I did in our debate two weeks ago, that the Government greatly value the staff who contribute to and support the NHS. We understand its importance and are committed to ensuring that it is supported and funded appropriately, which is clearly reflected in the extra £20.5 billion a year that the NHS will get by 2023-24.

As the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston quoted me saying in our last debate, we expect NHS England to set out clearly its commitment to the workforce in the long-term plan. The plan will address how to open up the profession to more people from all backgrounds and ensure that they get the right support throughout their training. To answer his question: yes, when the long-term plan is published, he will see the workforce embedded in it and in our strategy. We also expect NHS England to deliver a clear implementation plan to guarantee the future of the workforce. The NHS employs a record number of staff—more than 1.2 million in 2018, which is more than at any other time in its 70-year history—with significant growth in newly qualified staff since 2010.

Let me repeat what I said two weeks ago:

“the Government, and I as the new Minister for Health, should never be complacent”.—[Official Report, 21 November 2018; Vol. 649, c. 372WH.]

We are not. We are absolutely committed to ensuring that nursing remains an attractive career so that the NHS can build on the record numbers of nurses on our wards. Actions already taken to boost the supply of nurses range from training more nurses and offering new routes into the profession to enhancing rewards and pay packages, and there are now 11,000 more nurses on our wards than in May 2010.

NHS England, NHS Improvement and Health Education England are working with trusts on a range of recruitment, retention and return to practice programmes to ensure that the required workforce is in place to deliver safe and effective services. We should note that NHS Improvement has had some real success with its retention programme. Retention seems to me one of the key issues for the Government to focus on, and that will be reflected in the long-term plan. NHS Improvement’s programme continues its direct work with trusts to support improvements in retention, with a focus on the nursing workforce and the mental health clinical workforce. So far, 35 trusts have been involved and the initial evidence is positive and encouraging, with more flexible working programmes and greater support for older workers. It is therefore right that that programme be expanded further to all remaining NHS trusts in England.