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The BBC's James Westhead reports
"Vacancies have been rising too"
 real 28k

Health Secretary Alan Milburn
"There are staff shortages but things are moving in the right direction"
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Stephen Thornton, NHS Confederation
"We need to plan over a number of years"
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Monday, 28 February, 2000, 07:56 GMT
Recruitment boost for NHS

More than 300,000 nurses work in the NHS

An extra 1,000 nursing and midwife training places are to be created as part of a massive recruitment drive for the NHS, the government has announced.

Health secretary Alan Milburn announced a 120m training programme after figures were released showing a large rise in nurse recruitment. The number of nurses working in the NHS has risen by 4,500 to 304,560 in the past year.

We've turned the corner on nurse numbers
Alan Milburn, health secretary
Ministers said the rise - the largest for seven years - showed they were successfully tackling the nurse recruitment crisis.

A 4m TV advertising campaign aimed at increasing nursing numbers even further begins on Monday.

Mr Milburn also spelled out plans to recruit more radiographers, physiotherapists and scientists to the NHS - all areas which are currently short-staffed.

A shake-up in the way nurses work, giving them more responsibilities for treatments such as chemotherapy traditionally carried out by doctors, was also announced by Mr Milburn on Monday.

A Downing Street source said: "The government is determined to create new opportunities for nurses to make sure that they are not just doctors' handmaidens."

In addition to the new nurses recruited in the past year, 5,000 former nurses have returned to the job or started retraining, apparently attracted by higher pay and status.

The number of student nurses has risen from 11,200 to 16,000.

'Turned the corner'

"We've turned the corner on nurse numbers. This is the biggest rise for seven years," he said.

"It's the second year in a row we've had a rise that amounts to over 4,000."

However, Prime Minister Tony Blair added: "The figures out today are very encouraging but we are under no illusion. We have got a lot more to do and we need to build on these figures."

More flexibility between nurses and doctors was one area being promoted by Mr Milburn. Nurses would be encouraged to take on roles, such as chemotherapy and endoscopies traditionally carried out by doctors.

And it was reported that nurses could stand in for GPs when doctors are off sick, rather than bringing in a replacement doctor.

Dr Laurence Buckman, GP representative for the British Medical Association, told GP magazine he was disgusted by the proposal. "It's like getting a stewardess to fly a plane," he said.

Mr Milburn told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Alongside expansion, we have got to have reform in the way in which they work, ways in which trained, highly-skilled staff like nurses can take on new additional roles that will help to break down some of these professional demarcations that we have had in the NHS.

It's like getting a stewardess to fly a plane
Dr Laurence Buckman
"What I want to see is an NHS of all the talents, using the full potential of nurses and other clinical staff, precisely in order to free up doctors more so that they can have more time to treat more seriously ill patients more quickly."

In a speech to a conference in Birmingham, Mr Milburn said new standards would be introduced later this year to judge every NHS organisation on the job flexibility they offer staff, including family-friendly approaches and modernised training.

'Good news'

Christine Hancock, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: "Any initiative that seeks to attract and retain nurses is good news for patients and the nursing profession."

But she added: "In order to reach the campaigns full potential, especially in bringing nurses back, it is vital that we build on the recent pay awards."

Stephen Thornton, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents health service employers, welcomed Mr Milburn's announcement of 120 million for training.

But he told the Today programme: "That is important money but it is money for training, so it isn't money for salaries, which is one of the big problems that the NHS faces in the financial year that we are about to enter."

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See also:
28 Feb 00 |  Health
'I returned to nursing after 20 years'
11 Jan 99 |  Health
Why an NHS nurse is hard to find
10 Sep 99 |  Health
'15,000 nursing posts unfilled'
09 Feb 99 |  Health
Shake-up planned for nursing

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