The figures show an increase in applicants this year. The hon. Lady will know that there are 1.4 applications for each place, and she will have heard me say that we are creating additional clinical placements to ensure that more nursing places are available. I recognise that there has been a drop, but I hope that she applauds the 4.5% increase in applicants this year. That is key.
A number of Members rightly talked about additional nursing roles and support. Health Education England is leading a national nursing associates programme with a commitment for 7,500 nursing associate apprentices to enter training this year. That builds on a programme that has already seen thousands start training in 2017 and 2018.
The RCN is leading work focused on the legislative framework for all professional groups. I should set out that work on the people plan also included examining options for growing the medical and allied health work- force, including the possibility of further medical school expansion, increasing part-time study, expanding the number of accelerated degree programmes and greater contestability in allocating the 7,500 medical training places each year to drive improvements in the curriculum.
For allied health professionals, the long-term plan sets out a commitment to completing a programme of actions to develop further the national strategy, focusing on implementation of the plan. There will be a workforce group to support that work and make recommendations, including on professions in short supply, which would address the podiatry point made by my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives. That is essential.
I do not think that anyone should be in any way complacent, and the Government are clearly not complacent. Many hon. Members will have heard me say that, as well as training the workforce for the future, it is important that we support and retain the current workforce. The interim people plan is committed to reviewing how to make increases in a number of factors. One such factor is national and local investment in professional development and workforce development.
There are examples of good practice in this area across the NHS, and I was particularly pleased when I visited Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust to see how a group of band 6 nurses had created their own in-house training programme, boosting management skills and leading to greater collaborative ways of working. That example of best practice makes the case for national investment in such programmes and for national funding for continuing professional development.
Everyone recognises the need to recruit more staff, but it is also fair to put on the record the fact that the number of staff working in the NHS today is at an all-time high—it is the highest it has been in the NHS’s 70-year history. Since 2010 there has been a significant growth in qualified staff. [Interruption.] I hear a sigh from Opposition Members, but it is worth making the point that there are now 51,900 more professionally qualified staff, including 17,000 more nurses working on wards. That is a simple fact; it is a piece of data, and we cannot get away from it. I do not suggest that one should be complacent in any way, but we should recognise that there are more nurses and doctors, and the Government are committed to delivering on our promise to ensure that the NHS has the right staff with the right skills in the right place at the right time to deliver the hugely valuable, excellent care that patients deserve.
Question put and agreed to.