HL Deb 26 July 1999 vol 604 cc1288-90

3.13 p.m.

Lord Clement-Jones asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is the timetable for the review of workforce planning promised in the Department of Health's reply (Cm 4379) to the House of Commons Health Committee's report on future staffing requirements (1998–299, HC 38-I).

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Hayman)

My Lords, the review will begin in the autumn. We anticipate that it will take around three months to complete and will be followed by the publication of a consultation document making proposals for action. Following a short consultation period and any necessary modifications for the proposed action plan, an implementation timetable will be established.

Lord Clement-Jones

My Lords, I welcome the Minister's Answer and congratulate her on her department's late conversion to the view that its workforce planning for the NHS was inadequate. However, will the review, as a matter of urgency, consider severe shortages in, for instance, obstetrics, gynaecology, radiology and paediatrics? Will she confirm that the medical profession will be closely involved in the review, despite the recent war of words conducted by the Prime Minister?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, there are an awful lot of issues to unpick in that supplementary question! I do not know about the department, but I do not need convincing of or converting to the idea that we need to improve workforce planning throughout the NHS. Many people share that view within both government and the professions.

The review will look at how we undertake the task of workforce planning with the view of streamlining it and making it more efficient and coherent. It will not undertake the workforce planning itself. We are taking immediate action in some of the areas that the noble Lord mentioned—obstetrics and gynaecology, for example—in order to deal with the difficulties.

As regards the "war of words", we intend the process to be consultative and we need to involve all the professions, not only the medical profession, in the review. The noble Lord should not believe too much of what he reads in the newspapers. Those of us who have heard the Prime Minister speaking to health service audiences know exactly how much he values their contribution.

Lord McColl of Dulwich

My Lords, is the Minister aware that, until the Government came to power, it was always the practice to keep junior hospital staff in post until they were found suitable employment at the end of their 20-year training? That was readily achievable by recruiting new trainees only when the posts were vacated by their senior colleagues. Why will not the Government now restore that civilised practice, bearing in mind that the NHS is a monopoly employer and that the training of junior staff costs a lot of money?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord McColl, described the process as civilised, but I am not sure that it was the best in ensuring high-quality services for patients or proper employment opportunities for those who he was right to say had undergone a long training period. However, given the changes in the way in which services are delivered and the demands on health services, the 20-year timeframe to which he referred illustrates the difficulties of workforce planning and the need to have more flexibility in the system.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it is little short of a national scandal that, for almost all of the past 50 years, the NHS has been a net importer of doctors, in particular from the Indian sub-continent which is scarce of doctors itself? Does she agree that we should welcome with rejoicing, the fact that the Government have announced the training of a further 1,000 doctors? Will she say whether, if there is a need, the Government will make available funds to increase that number?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, my noble friend is aware that this month we announced 1,000 additional medical school places distributed throughout the country, bringing medical education into new areas including the West Midlands and Stockton-on-Tees. Therefore, as regards long-term planning, we are increasing the supply of doctors who are trained in this country. There has also been an increase in the number of training places for midwives and nurses. We should not underestimate the contribution which continues to be made to the NHS by those who are trained overseas. Of course we do not want to denude countries of their trained personnel on whom they depend, but nor should we devalue what can be learnt from the interchange of professionals—and I refer to professionals leaving this country and working elsewhere as well as those coming to work here.

Lord McColl of Dulwich

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the civilised practice to which I referred was practised by every government and that, if this Government were to restore it, the skills of the workforce would rise? Why will they not do so?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, I am sure that the review, which we have agreed will be consultative, will be interested to hear the noble Lord's views and he can put that suggestion forward. I was not making a party political point. I was saying simply that what was right in the past may not necessarily be right for the present. let alone the future.