Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

Front Page



UK Politics







Talking Point
On Air
Low Graphics

Friday, January 8, 1999 Published at 13:53 GMT


Dobson admits health crisis

Hospital beds are in short supply over the winter months

Health Secretary Frank Dobson has admitted the NHS is in crisis and says the nursing recruitment problem is an "international disgrace".

BBC Social Affairs Correspondent Alison Holt reports
Mr Dobson was speaking as Labour went on the offensive over bed and staffing problems within the National Health Service sparked by an upsurge in flu cases.

The health secretary has issued a report in which he places the blame for the current problems squarely on the shoulders of the previous Conservative government.

But public workers' union Unison said the crisis will deepen unless NHS pay improves.

'Tory complacency'

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Dobson said: "We've been importing doctors and nurses for nurses for donkeys years now.

"The whole of the developed world does it and, in a sense, it is an international disgrace."

Frank Dobson tells BBC Radio 4's Today programme : "It's a disgrace"
The report issued by Mr Dobson describes how "five years of Tory complacency and under-investment sowed the seeds for today's problems.

"Between 1992 and 1994, the Tories cut the number of nurse training places from 15,073 to 10,849," he said.

This year about 15,500 student nurses are expected to begin training - the highest figure for six years, claims the report.

It continues: "If the Tories had matched that commitment to nurse training over their last five years of office there could now be over 14,000 extra nurses working on the wards."

[ image: Frank Dobson: Tories cut nurse training places]
Frank Dobson: Tories cut nurse training places
Mr Dobson told Today: "The reduced number coming out is a product of the reductions they deliberately made at that time."

He said he would like to see an improvement in the "pay and working conditions of nurses", including introducing more flexible shifts.

The health secretary launched an inquiry last September into hospital beds to provide clear guidance on the future number, mix and use of beds needed.

It is due to report in the Spring.

Bogus claims

The Conservatives have strongly rebutted Mr Dobson's claims.

Shadow health secretary Ann Widdecombe said: "Frank Dobson's attempt to wriggle out of his personal responsibility for the crisis in our health service is bogus and won't work.

"Nobody is going to be fooled by Frank's attempt to evade responsibility for a crisis that was caused by his obsession with fiddled waiting lists and distorted clinical priorities."

The Conservatives say the increase in nurse training places since 1995 was planned by the previous regime.

And they say the government's figures on trainee places do not add up.

The Conservatives claim it is only counting some nurse trainees and leaving out practice nurses working in the community and additional intensive care nurses.

But the Royal College of Nursing says the Conservatives did cut training places in the early 1990s.

However, it says the challenge now is "to make nursing an attractive profession once again" by raising pay and improving conditions and support.

The British Association for Accident and Emergency Medicine has blamed Labour's stress on getting waiting lists down for the current crisis in casualty departments up and down the country.

It wants a sustained increase in resources for staffing in A&E departments and for extra beds.

Advanced options | Search tips

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage | ©

Health Contents

Background Briefings
Medical notes

Relevant Stories

07 Jan 99 | Health
Relatives asked to take on nursing duties

07 Jan 99 | Health
Lorry mortuary at flu hospital

07 Jan 99 | Health
NHS struggles to cope as flu crisis deepens

05 Jan 99 | Health
Extra cash to fight flu crisis

04 Jan 99 | Health
Emergency beds crisis

29 Dec 98 | Health
Agency nurse costs soar in NHS

Internet Links

NHS Confederation

Department of Health

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

In this section

Disability in depth

Spotlight: Bristol inquiry

Antibiotics: A fading wonder

Mental health: An overview

Alternative medicine: A growth industry

The meningitis files

Long-term care: A special report

Aids up close

From cradle to grave

NHS reforms: A guide

NHS Performance 1999

From Special Report
NHS in crisis: Special report

British Medical Association conference '99

Royal College of Nursing conference '99