HC Deb 26 January 1999 vol 324 cc124-5
2. Mr. Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie)

If he will make a statement about the supply of nurses in Scotland. [65826]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Sam Galbraith)

The supply of and demand for nurses and midwives in Scotland is assessed annually, taking account of employers expectations over a five-year horizon. This year, the intake to nurse training courses will be increased in accordance with the findings of last years assessment. A new assessment for 1999 is about to be launched.

Currently, the vacancy rate is around 3 per cent., part of which is turnover. At present, there are 1.7 suitably qualified applicants for every place available for nursing or midwifery training courses. From 1 July 1999, that will be a matter for the Scottish Parliament.

Mr. Worthington

Can my hon. Friend confirm that it is a good time to go into nursing because the role of nurses is being redefined, particularly in primary care groups? Their role will be one of leadership rather than of following, and they will have a much broader and more enhanced role.

Will my hon. Friend encourage health boards to place less reliance on agency nurses in their staffing of hospitals, because the quality of the service is bound to fall if staffing is too tight and agency nurses are used too often?

Mr. Galbraith

Although the use of agency nurses is low in Scotland, it is being reviewed with the option of reducing it even further. My hon. Friend is correct: it is a good time to go into nursing. The nursing profession is enhancing its role and developing new tasks: nurse practitioners, nurse consultants, triaging and handling casualty. They play a vast leadership role, not just in the hospital sector, but in primary care groups, primary care trusts and other sectors. They have a vast horizon ahead of them. I welcome all the nurses and hope that the package that we are putting together in discussion with them will lead to an even greater number of nurses applying for the places available.

Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset)

What is the total cost of the Minister's bureaucratic reorganisation of the health service in Scotland? How many extra nurses could he employ by saving that money?

Mr. Galbraith

The reorganisation involves no costs. The savings produced by reducing the number of trusts by almost half are £18 million and the total savings from slashing the bureaucracy imposed by the previous Government are £100 million.

Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East)

We are told that under capitalism supply will always increase to meet demand, but as the national health service is a socialist enterprise, does my hon. Friend agree that the only sure way of increasing the supply of nurses is to pay them the full rate for the job? We had 18 years of Tory government boosting the pay of the police and the armed forces. Can we have the next 18 years of socialist government boosting the pay of nurses, doctors, social workers, teachers and public sector workers that make up the fabric of our still too neglected welfare state?

Mr. Galbraith

My hon. Friend is right. One of the great assets of the NHS is that it is a system based on need and free at the point of delivery. Its staff are part of the reason that it delivers so well and that is why the Government seek to ensure that their contribution is recognised and rewarded. We trust that the review body's recommendations will recognise the value of nurses and others in a way that the Government can afford.

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