HC Deb 24 February 1998 vol 307 cc164-5
9. Mr. Chidgey

What plans he has to recruit more medical staff for the NHS. [29323]

Mr. Milburn

We are recruiting more medical staff. We have also introduced a range of initiatives to improve not only retention but recruitment. We are currently considering the medical work force standing advisory committee's recommendation to increase the annual intake to United Kingdom medical schools by 20 per cent.

Mr. Chidgey

Is the Minister aware that there is a shortage of 120 hospital doctors in the South and West health authority, which directly affects my constituents in Eastleigh? Is he aware that a recent parliamentary answer revealed a shortage of 1,600 hospital doctors, 8,000 nurses and 1,000 general practitioners across the NHS? Does he agree that that must have a direct impact on this winter's record cancellation of operations and on the fact that waiting lists for hospital places are climbing out of control? Is it not about time that the Government took the matter seriously and took some firm action to provide an NHS that is properly funded and properly resourced?

Mr. Milburn

That is precisely what we are doing: we are putting in extra money this year. Next year, we will put in an extra £50 million to aid education and training of future doctors. However, it is not only a question money. The best recruiting sergeant for attracting more doctors into the NHS will be to restore doctors' sense that, rather than being sidelined, they are at the heart of the NHS. Our White Paper proposals will do precisely that, not only in primary care—where family doctors and community nurses will be in the driving seat in shaping the future of local health services—but in local health services, where we will explicitly bring hospital consultants in from the cold so that they will have an opportunity to help shape the local health service as they have been unable to do under the internal market.

Sir Peter Emery

In view of the general shortage of dentists, particularly in the south-west—about which, as the Minister will know, I have been in consultation with his Department—will he consider setting a capital allowance for dentists who wish to start a new dental clinic in areas where it is acknowledged that a clinic is required and allow that capital to be repaid over a 10-year period from the fees earned? The difficulty with starting a new clinic is often the capital cost. An allowance would surely be a way of easing the problem and would be preferable to introducing mobile dental clinics—which we have in my constituency and which must be nonsense in this modern age.

Mr. Milburn

Perhaps I can reassure the right hon. Gentleman that, in part, that is precisely what investing in dentistry does; it makes available to dentists and health authorities that want to work in collaboration grants for improvements to premises and, in some cases, for construction. The deal we offer dentists is that they can come back into the NHS and get a grant for doing so, provided they give a three or five-year commitment to continue in NHS dentistry. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that, of the 200 applications we have received under investing in dentistry, 73 have come from the South and West health authority area, and they will be considered seriously.