NHS Workforce: England — [Mrs Madeleine Moon in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:42 pm on 17th July 2019.

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Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care) 3:42 pm, 17th July 2019

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mrs Moon. I look forward to responding to the debate, which has been interesting, and I congratulate Eleanor Smith on securing it.

I listened carefully to my hon. Friend Derek Thomas. He will be pleased to know that I will be happy to write to him about podiatry; there are some interesting issues about new plans that are being put in place. He will recognise that there are more applicants for university nurse training places this year than in the previous year.

I was pleased to hear the contributions from the hon. Members for Lincoln (Karen Lee) and for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron). I have responded to the hon. Gentleman about ambulances. He will know that there are eight posted in the Cumbria and Morecambe Bay areas, but I am looking with him at procurement there and will be looking to see where the North West Ambulance Service places those ambulances. He questioned whether promises are being fulfilled. I guide him to the implementation framework. He also talked about planning and investment. That is why there is a long-term plan and a people plan, and why moneys are going in to back them up. I also listened carefully to Mike Hill.

I say to Mrs Hodgson, let us start by agreeing with each other. I think both of us, and everybody in the Chamber and across the House, would recognise and praise the work of everybody who works in the NHS—I have been pleased to do that on every occasion I have responded to a debate in Westminster Hall or on the Floor of the House. The hon. Lady rightly mentioned that the interim people plan recognises the pressures that are being put on staff. What she failed to say, of course, is that not only do we recognise that but there is a whole chapter on addressing those issues and making the NHS the best place to work. She talked a little about junior doctors and nurses in training, failing to recognise that we have just done a deal with the junior doctors that includes a four-year pay deal and resolution of the number of issues they had with the contract review. There are now more applicants for nurse training places than there were in the previous year.

Like many other Members, I attended the RCN member-led event yesterday and heard at first hand about the aims of the campaign from many nurses working in the NHS. I met again a number of the people I met at an event for nurses in training back in November. At the heart of the campaign, as everybody recognises, is the RCN’s intention to ensure that the needs and requirements of the NHS workforce are prioritised. I fully support the RCN’s focus on the importance of the NHS workforce—recruitment and retention—but I am not convinced that legislation is always the answer, and I am not convinced that changing legislation will necessarily bring about the changes and focus the RCN seeks.

However, given that the hon. Member for Wolverhampton South West secured the debate in recognition of the Secretary of State’s legislative duties in relation to workforce, it is probably right that I set out exactly what the legal position is. Through the Care Act 2014, the Secretary of State delegated to Health Education England powers to support the delivery of excellent healthcare and health improvement for patients and the public in England by ensuring that the current and future NHS workforce has the right number of staff with the right skills, values and behaviours at the right time and in the right place to meet patients’ needs.

The Care Act 2014 sets out in detail Health Education England’s remit and range of responsibilities, including its duty to ensure an effective system of education and training for the NHS and public health. Beyond the detail of the legislation, HEE provides leadership for the education and training system, and ensures that the workforce have the right skills to be able to deliver excellent healthcare in the right numbers. HEE was established to deliver a better healthcare workforce for England and is already accountable for ensuring that there is a secure workforce supply for the future. It has responsibility for promoting high-quality education and training that is responsive to the changing needs of patients and local communities.

The full range of HEE’s responsibilities, deliverables and accountabilities are described in its annual mandate, which the Secretary of State is required to approve. The most recent edition of that mandate and HEE’s latest annual business plan summarise what it is doing and its achievements. I am pleased to say that, as those who have had the chance to read it will have noted, the mandate for 2019-20 was published last week.

The hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West made a point about legislation for safe staffing, but there is already a commitment to safe staffing and to ensuring that the NHS aims to be the safest healthcare system in the world, as it should be. Part of that must come from transparency in staffing levels, which is why the care hours per day data were introduced in 2016. The Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) Regulations 2014 require hospitals to have the right staff in the right place at the right time, and appropriate staffing levels are a core element of the Care Quality Commission’s registration regime. As the hon. Lady will know, all providers of regulated activities must be registered with the Care Quality Commission and meet the registration requirements. The safe staffing requirement is therefore already there, and accountability mechanisms are in place.