Derek warns Minister of podiatrist shortages following bursary changes

I was glad to speak again in Parliament on the subject of health care, this time raising the subject of changes to the nursing bursary and potential knock on effects to specialities such as podiatry. I was shocked to hear Plymouth University’s announcement that due to changes in applications for its podiatry course, there will be no new cohort of podiatry students as of September. This is worrying for Cornwall, as where people study, they tend to stay. This will not help as when it comes to caring for our feet, we are heading for a perfect storm. Fewer people are going into training because of financial barriers, and over the next few years many will exit the profession. I asked the Minister to look at what has happened since the nursing bursary was removed for mature students and whether we can address the problem as soon as possible. 

My speech in full: 

Derek Thomas

We are talking about preventive health care, and I want to focus on podiatry and its workforce. This place has supported changes to the nursing bursary, and I continue to support those changes for students, but they are having an impact on mature students that I do not think was intended. We all have feet, which we need to look after, and if professionals help to take good care of our feet, it can avoid problems in the future. We all need the podiatrists and others who work to care for our feet.

Plymouth University has recently announced that because of changes in applications for its podiatry undergraduate programme, it will be unable to run the course from September, so in the south-west, especially Cornwall and Devon, no one will train in podiatry. We all know that when people train in an area, they tend to stay there.

Rebecca Pow

The diabetes foot pathway relied on opening eight podiatry clinics across Somerset. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is the podiatrists who are helping to solve the diabetes problem?

Derek Thomas 

I completely agree with my hon. Friend, and I attended a conference 18 months ago at which the podiatrists and Plymouth University mentioned the risk of this happening. We are now seeing that prophecy being fulfilled. I appreciate what my hon. Friend says about what has been done to improve the pathway and reduce lower limb amputations. We must not see that good work reversed.

When it comes to caring for our feet, we are heading for a perfect storm. Fewer people are going into training because of financial barriers, and in 10 years we will see an enormous amount of podiatrists retiring from the profession. That adds up to a real challenge that we need to address quickly. I ask the Minister to look at what has happened since the nursing bursary was removed for mature students and whether we can address that.

The impact on patients is severe. Type 2 diabetes is the fastest growing health threat facing our nation, and 3 million people are living with it. That figure is set to reach 4 million by 2030. Diabetic foot care costs the NHS in England between £1.1 billion and £1.3 billion a year—£5.7 million per clinical commissioning group. It accounts for £1 in every £100 spent, more than the combined cost of three of the four most common cancers. Some 80% of the 135 lower extremity amputations each week in England are preventable through good foot care, and the Government have made a commitment in legislation and policy to provide safe care. That is just one example of how, if we do not get this right, we will fail to avoid the impact on patients of more lower limb amputations and lower life expectancy. The facts show that after a lower limb amputation, life expectancy is reduced to about five years.

There is also an impact on the NHS. I have mentioned the sheer cost of caring for lower limb problems, and it will have an impact on multidisciplinary teams if we do not keep people with the skills coming through. It will also have an impact on budgets. As well as the impact on social care and on the budgets for those delivering support in people’s homes, making changes around a home because someone has had a lower limb amputation is a costly affair that is easily avoided if we get it right and get enough podiatrists on the ground.

There is an urgent need for action. I ask the Government to look at why mature students are uniquely impacted when going to study these important professions. If a mature student is on any sort of benefit—housing benefit or other financial support—the minute they take out a student loan to study to be a podiatrist, they lose all that support. Perhaps the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Work and Pensions need to look at that, because that is a significant barrier to people coming into a skill we so badly need.

I ask the Minister to look at solutions to reverse the reduction of mature students going into important parts of the NHS such as podiatry so that we can save money for the future, to be used where needed, and provide a real opportunity to improve people’s lives.​