HC Deb 26 July 1983 vol 46 cc1037-9
9. Mr. Gareth Wardell

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether he expects the number of whole-time equivalent nurses to fall during the present financial year.

11. Mr. Ron Davies

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services how many agency nurses are employed in the National Health Service.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

We have told regional health authority chairmen that the NHS should plan to work to lower manpower targets over the year 1983–84, but within those targets we expect to see a shift in the balance of those employed towards those staff engaged in direct patient care, such as nurses.

Provisional figures for September 1982 show that there are about 3,000— in whole-time equivalent terms—agency nurses and midwives working in the National Health Service in England.

Mr. Wardell

Will the Minister answer yes or no if he is planning to reduce the number of nurses by 2,000 this year?

Mr. Clarke

The hon. Gentleman has no basis or assumption for that figure.

Mr. James Lamond

The answer is no, then, is it?

Mr. Clarke

We are urging health authorities to work to lower manpower targets which will ensure the more efficient use of manpower of all the staff, including nurses. If we make more efficient use of manpower, we can improve the quality of nursing care.

Mr. Davies

Is the Minister aware of the increasing concern within the National Health Service about the employment of agency nurses? Is not the increasing employment of agency nurses jeopardising the long-term employment of nurses within the Health Service. Will the Minister now say whether he has any proposals to limit the number of agency nurses within the National Health Service?

Mr. Clarke

We have no evidence that an increase in the number of agency nurses employed in the National Health Service is taking place. We can see nothing wrong with employing agency nurses in suitable circumstances to cover emergency or particular situations. It is for each individual health authority to make the best decisions about the type of nursing manpower it needs and the numbers it needs in order to maximise patient care within its available resources.

Mr. Haynes

Is the Minister aware that the nursing school in the central Nottinghamshire health district has had its trainee nurse intake seriously reduced? The Minister knows that the central Nottinghamshire health district sits on his constituency's doorstep. This will mean that fewer nurses will go into the service, with the end result that services will suffer. Is he aware that this is all because of the Government's policy? The Secretary of State must not shake his head. What I have said is true. There has been a serious reduction in Trent region's allocation. I want a straight answer from the Minister.

Mr. Clarke

Without notice, I cannot answer for the decisions of nursing management in central Nottinghamshire, even though it is quite close to my constituency. The proper approach to nurse training is to train the number of nurses in the right place and in the right specialties that good patient care requires. That is the judgment which, I am sure, the managers in central Nottinghamshire are applying, just as we are applying it nationally.

Mr. Terry Davis

May we have an assurance that there will not be any reduction this year in the number of nurses?

Mr. Clarke

What on earth would be the point of giving an undertaking like that if we can save money by making better use of nurse manpower in one place to release resources for the better care of patients in another? It is absolutely fatuous to approach the planning of an important service such as the NHS by just wedding oneself to job statistics in a particular place at a particular time. We need to get the best value for money we can so as to get the best possible patient care from the resources available.