Published: 29/07/2004, Volume II4, No. 5916 Page 7

Health minister John Hutton has said the government expects to hit the NHS plan consultant recruitment target 'later this year'.

The announcement follows the publication of final staff recruitment figures against the original target deadline of April 2004.

Official figures show consultant numbers were boosted by 959 in the three months to March 31, taking the total recruited to 6,855 since the September 1999 baseline. The number is 645 short of the NHS plan target, despite concerted efforts to boost the March 31 count (news, page 3, 24 June).

The census confirms the government exceeded its March 31 GP headcount target by 660. The Department of Health also estimates it recruited an extra 10,000 nurses in the six months September 03-March 04 since the last official count, based on vacancy rates reported by strategic health authorities for 2003-04.

The target for 20,000 extra nurses by 2004 had already been exceeded by the end of the second quarter 2003 - when the count revealed an extra 56,722 were in NHS employment compared to September 1999.