I do appreciate concern about the use of NHS agency staff, and would like to provide reassurance that the Government is committed to increasing the number of staff in the NHS, both in the short-term and for the future. I support recent announcements to train and recruit 25 per cent more doctors and nurses every year. That is roughly 1,500 more doctors, and 5,000 more nurses being trained on the NHS, and the Government is working closely with universities to ensure that our higher education sector is prepared to train a new generation of recruits.
As constituents will no doubt be aware, Lincolnshire has faced long-term challenges around recruitment, which is why I am delighted to have helped secure a new medical school for our county, which will help us to train and retain a range of medical professionals in the county. The collaboration between Lincoln University and Nottingham University will offer 80 training places, starting from September 2019, which is excellent news for us locally as studies have shown that doctors tend to remain in the areas they trained in.
I also entirely understand concerns about the need for more staff in the immediate term. I am happy to say that there are over 50,000 nurses in training, and the introduction of the new Nursing Degree Apprenticeship and nursing associate roles will significantly bolster the nursing workforce in the short term, as we continue to build an NHS workforce for the future.
In response to agency staff, rules were introduced in April 2016 to support trusts to reduce their agency expenditure and move to a sustainable model of temporary staffing. Since then, trusts have successfully reduced agency spend by over £1 billion. As a percentage of total pay expenditure, agency spend has fallen from 7.8 per cent at its peak to 4.4 per cent. Nevertheless, NHS Improvement is currently consulting on a framework of rules designed to further reduce spending on agency staff, ensuring that the NHS continues to offer a high quality service which also delivers value for money for taxpayers. Where only agencies can provide what is needed, currently, it is of course vital to ensure that the patient comes first.