§ Mr. Hancock
To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many neurologists are practising in England; what estimate he has made of the shortfall in neurologists; what action he is taking to encourage more neurologists to practise; what effect the shortfall of neurologists has on the speed of diagnosis for motor neurone disease sufferers; and if he will make a statement. 
§ Mr. Hutton
We are committed to a significant expansion in the national health service work force. The NHS Plan set a target of 7,500 more consultants and 1,000 more specialist registrars by March 2004, over a 1999 baseline.
Between September 1999 and March 2002, the total number of consultants increased by 13 per cent. During the same time period, the number of consultant neurologists increased by 23 per cent. By 2004, we expect there to be an additional 78 trained specialists available to take up consultant posts in neurology.
We are encouraging more doctors to practice neurology by expanding the number of specialist registrar (SpR) opportunities in neurology. For 2003–04, central funding will be distributed to support the
Department of Health Vacancies Survey All consultant vacancies in NHS Trust in London DHSC area three month vacancy rates and numbers March 2002 March 1999 3 month vacancy rate month (Percentage) 3 month vacancy rate 3 month vacancy rate month (Percentage) 3 month vacancy rate England (excluding HA staff) of which: 3.8 946 2.3 469 London DHSC area 3.4 161 2.2 85
1 Three month vacancy information is as at 31 March each year
2 Three month vacancies are vacancies which Trusts are actively trying to fill, which had lasted for three months or more (whole time equivalents)
3 Three month Vacancy Rates are three month vacancies expressed as a percentage of three month vacancies plus staff in post
4 For 2002, three month Vacancy Rates are calculated using staff in post from the Consultant Census, March 2002
5 For 1999, three month Vacancy Rates are calculated using staff in post from the Medical and Dental Census, September 1998
6 Percentages are rounded to one decimal place
1. Vacancy and staff in post numbers are rounded to the nearest whole number
2. Calculating the vacancy rates using the above data may not equal the actual vacancy rates
3. Medical and dental figures exclude staff in training
Sources:Department of Health Vacancies Survey, March 1999 and March 2002418W
implementation of 10 additional SpR posts in neurology. Trusts will also have the opportunity to create up to 20 locally funded SpR training opportunities.
The long-term conditions care group workforce team covers conditions such as neurology, diabetes and renal services. It is developing the workforce strategy to underpin the national service frameworks for these conditions. It covers all aspects of work force planning and development including medical and nursing, allied health professions and social care professions.
Motor neurone disease is often a difficult clinical diagnosis because the pattern of symptoms varies between patients and often mimics other, quite different diseases. The Department has introduced targets to limit the maximum length of time a patient should expect to wait to see a neurologist to 26 weeks.