§ 8. Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan)
What steps he is taking to improve the recruitment of nurses to the NHS. 
§ The Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Alan Milburn)
Provisional figures show that 10,000 more nurses were working in the NHS in 2001 than in 2000. That is a consequence of better pay, improved child care and more flexible working.
§ Mr. Smith
I welcome the good news about nurse recruitment, and congratulate my right hon. Friend and 739 his team on their good work. Does he, however, recognise the vital part played by the Royal College of Nursing in both recruiting and retaining nurses, given its principal role of representing nurses' interests? Does he agree that the college should adopt the same high standards in protecting its own employees as apply to its members in the NHS? It should not be in the business of diddling former employees such as my constituent Mrs. Marilyn Reed out of their pension entitlements.
§ Mr. Milburn
The news about recruitment is indeed very good. I well remember that when we announced the NHS plan in the House, the Opposition said we would never hit the target of an extra 20,000 nurses by 2004. Now, at the beginning of 2002, there are already 16,000 more. We are not just on target; we are well ahead of target. The RCN has played an important part in that, as have Unison and the other trade unions representing nurses at all levels in the NHS. We work closely together precisely to try to get the policies right, and not just bring nurses into the NHS but ensure that they stay.
As far as internal issues as concerned, I think that they are a matter for the RCN.
§ Hywel Williams (Caernarfon)
There are 750 nursing vacancies in Wales. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that nurse training places are allocated to Wales to meet that need?
§ Mr. Milburn
It is one of the joys of my life that I am not responsible for all things Welsh—not that all things Welsh, as personified by hon. Members of all parties, are not absolutely admirable. There is very good news about nurse training places. I note that the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service reports that the number of people applying for nursing degrees has risen by 18 per cent. in one year. The news is better with regard to applications for nurse diploma courses: they are up by 83 per cent.