03 October 2002

S1M-3450 Coronary Heart Disease and Stroke

The Presiding Officer (Sir David Steel): The next item is a debate on motion S1M-3450, in the name of Malcolm Chisholm, on action against coronary heart disease and stroke, and on two amendments to that motion.
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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I will make a fairly brief speech after Des McNulty.
The minister said that health professionals are at the core of the plans. That is right and proper. I hope that a substantial proportion of the £40 million will go on professionals.
I will spend a minute or two on the challenges that are faced in relation to staffing. First, and fairly obviously, over the past six years the number of deaths from stroke has declined, although the incidence of stroke remains much the same. That increases the burden on support after a stroke, which involves a wide range of services. By the same token, the ambitious targets for bringing down angiography waiting times will increase the demand for staff.
I have before me work force statistics from the information and statistics division. I will focus on nurses, because they are an essential component of the strategy. As of August 2002, there are 1,869 vacancies for nurses generally. Intensive care has the highest percentage of vacancies: 6.8 per cent of positions are currently vacant. The next highest is paediatrics at 5.7 per cent and the third highest is theatre nurses at 5.3 per cent. That is against an overall vacancy level of about 4 per cent.
Consider some of the other statistics. Over two years, the number of cardiologists has declined by 2 per cent and the number of cardiology consultants has declined by 4 per cent. More worryingly, over a five-year period, the number of neurologists has declined by 63 per cent.
What will happen in future? A written answer to me, S1W-27665, gives the profile of retiring nurses over the next 10 years. It shows that 321 qualified nurses will retire in 2002 upon reaching normal retirement age. By 2007, that figure will have more than doubled. The number of nurses leaving the profession is accelerating due to nature. At the same time, there are real difficulties and vacancies.
As far as training is concerned, the figures are more reassuring and suggest that many people are coming through. However, the number of people in training is less than the number of nurses that will reach retirement age. On that basis, we will certainly have some problems.
I hope that Mary Mulligan, in replying to the debate, will be able to assure us that we will not only get money, but that we will be able to pay staff sufficient to attract new people into the profession. In particular, will she agree with the SNP that nurses are very much at the core of what we do in health and that they should be rewarded accordingly with substantially higher salaries than they receive at present?

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