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Thursday, 10 May, 2001, 10:03 GMT
Labour health pledge 'not enough'
Nurses
There is a shortage of nurses
Labour's election pledge to increase the number of doctors and nurses working in the NHS has met with a lukewarm response by health service professionals.

The party's election pledge card says that if re-elected it will increase the number of nurses in the NHS by 20,000 and the number of doctors by 10,000 by 2005.

However, health professionals are concerned that the pledge does not represent a significant advance on commitments made in last year's NHS Plan.

They also believe that the extra staff, while welcome, will not be enough to tackle the problems in the NHS.

The NHS Plan promised an extra 2,000 GPs and an extra 7,5000 consultants by 2004.

At present, there are 120,000 doctors working in the NHS, including 35,000 GPs, 27,000 consultants and 35,000 juniors.

However, the British Medical Association's GP Committee has calculated that 10,000 new family doctors are needed to meet demand in England alone.

Ballot

GP
More GPs are needed to cope with demand

It is so alarmed at the government's failure to address the shortage of GPs that it has balloted its members, asking if they would be prepared to resign from the NHS unless their concerns are properly tackled.

A BMA spokeswoman told BBC News Online: "This is an expansion of doctor numbers and we welcome it.

"But it is important that the wider electorate is not confused into thinking that these figures are on top of the expansion already announced last July."

She said 1,100 new GPs and 4,000 new consultants were already in training anyway.

The spokeswoman conceded that the proposed 30% increase in consultant numbers did represent a significant expansion, and was in line with recommendations made by the medical royal colleges several years ago.

However, she said: "Times have moved on and there is now a strong feeling that this will not be enough given the intensity of consultant workload, the increasing public expectation that they will be treated by a consultant, and the desire to reduce waiting times."

The growing dissatisfaction among doctors with Labour is illustrated by a poll carried out by Hospital Doctor magazine which found only 30% plan to vote for the party at the forthcoming election, compared with 46% who voted Labour in 1997.

The UK would need to double the number of doctors to bring it up to European Union averages.

Nurses

At present, there are 335,952 full-time and part-time nurses working in the NHS.

Therefore, a pledge to increase numbers by 20,000 does not represent a large percentage rise.

It may also prove difficult to achieve because at present one in six nurses fail to complete their training course.

A Royal College of Nursing spokeswoman told BBC News Online that if 20,000 extra nurses were introduced into the NHS it would go along way to addressing the problem of staff shortage.

However, she pointed out that there are currently 22,000 nurse vacancies across the UK.

She said: "This would make a massive difference to nurses' every day experience on the wards.

"Nurses want to give the best patient care they can, and when that is not possible it is incredibly frustrating, and one of the reasons why they leave the NHS."

The spokeswoman warned that a significant increase in the workforce would only be possible if ministers concentrated on retaining existing staff as well as drafting in new recruits.

She said many people were leaving the profession because they found it impossible to balance the demands of work and home life. More flexible working arrangements were essential to address that problem.

Pay was also a problem, with a newly qualified nurse earning on average 15,500 a year.

She also said nursing leaders would be unhappy ministers relied too heavily on overseas recruitment to boost numbers.

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