HC Deb 24 October 2000 vol 355 cc113-5
5. Helen Jones (Warrington, North)

What steps are being taken to recruit more occupational therapists for the NHS; and if he will make a statement. [131851]

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. John Hutton)

Qualified occupational therapists increased by 1,000 between September 1997 and September 1999. The NHS plan will see a further 6,500 more therapists and other health professionals by 2004. The Department's recruitment and retention strategy includes introducing more flexible and family-friendly employment conditions, increasing training commissions, attracting former staff back to the NHS, and encouraging flexible retirement.

Helen Jones

I add my congratulations to those that you have already received, Mr. Speaker.

The Minister's reply was encouraging, but does he agree that developing new ways of working is vital if we are to recruit and retain more occupational therapists in the NHS, especially as many are women with families? What is he doing to promote that? Will he join me in congratulating Warrington hospital, Warrington Community NHS trust and our local primary care groups, which have recently agreed to review together all their therapy and rehabilitation services, not only to deliver a better service to the patient but to make better use of the skills of the staff? Is not that the way in which we should progress?

Mr. Hutton

I agree strongly with my hon. Friend. She and the House will know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State recently announced a major new investment to ensure that, in future, the NHS provides effective child-care facilities for NHS staff. That would be a major contribution to ensuring that we attract large numbers of extra therapists into the NHS. My hon. Friend will know from discussions with her health authority and her trust the strong and important role that occupational therapists will play in ensuring that the new £900 million investment in intermediate care services, especially for older people, constitutes effective intervention and effective investment.

Mr. Nick Harvey (North Devon)

While I welcome the Government's commitment to recruiting more occupational therapists, especially in view of the current 20 per cent. shortfall, what steps will they take to ensure that they do not lose occupational therapists? There is a particular problem with pay, which lags behind even that for other NHS professionals. Will the Government take steps on that, on in-service training, which is underfunded in comparison with other NHS profession, and on career development? Occupational therapists do not have the same opportunities as doctors, nurses and other health professionals to move into management in the health service or in social services.

Mr. Hutton

I am grateful for the qualified support that the hon. Gentleman expressed for what we are trying to do. He is right to say that we need to provide a more attractive career structure for occupational therapists and other NHS professionals. That is why, for example, consultant therapists will work in the NHS in future. That constitutes an extra career grade and is an important development.

However, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman acknowledges that we must be realistic about the matter. We have an ambitious plan to increase the number of therapists in the NHS. I am not sure about the vacancy rate to which he referred; I think that the information is from the College of Occupational Therapists. I am not sure about the data on which it was based. As my right hon. Friend said, recruitment problems relate to the growing capacity of the NHS. Trusts and hospitals around the country are actively trying to recruit more occupational therapists and other members of professions allied to medicine. The problem is associated with the growth of the NHS, but we will get there, and address the issues that the hon. Gentleman raised.

Mrs. Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton)

Congratulations, Mr. Speaker.

Earlier this year, I attended an open day at Plymouth Derriford hospital for young school students from Plymouth, Devon and Cornwall to see the good work that occupational therapists do. Will the Minister join me in congratulating the occupational therapists on that initiative? What message does he have for young people who are currently considering entering the profession?

Mr. Hutton

That is a tricky one. I support my hon. Friend's comments and her actions in her constituency to support the expansion in the NHS. I would tell young people in her constituency and everywhere else that the future of the NHS is optimistic and positive as long as Labour is in government. I could not say the same if there was a change of Government, given the Conservative party's record and the legacy that we inherited from it. Under us, the NHS has a positive future; under the Conservatives, it does not.

Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth)

May I also congratulate you, Mr. Speaker, on your elevation?

The Minister should not only consider the recruitment of occupational therapists but that of complementary therapists. Does he know that, under the primary care group system, many areas do not engage homeopaths and herbal therapists, as they used to do? Will he look into that matter?

Mr. Hutton

I shall look into the matter. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman might like to stand on this side of the House when he asks questions about complementary therapy to see the expressions that they attract from the Conservative Front Bench. I know that the hon. Gentleman has a long-standing interest in the issue and I shall look into the anxieties that he raised.