With increasing clamour for the government to improve pay for nurses and tackle chronic recruitment problems, the Common' s health committee' s decision to investigate NHS staff requirements is timely.

The inquiry, which expected to start taking oral evidence in November, stems from MPs concerns about the strains of working in the NHS and the difficulties in hiring staff.

Under the terms of reference the committee will:

Inquire into the future staffing requirements of the NHS, and examine the methods used by the DoH to plan for those requirements.

Review the quality of current data collection.

Assess factors affecting recruitment and retention.

Consider the implications of the recent NHS spending review in relation to future staffing.

Assess the adequacy of steps being taken to deal with any future shortages.

The Committee is also to look at how successful the NHS has been in ridding itself of the secrecy culture created by gagging clauses introduced by the previous government.

Recruitment will be a key topic, particularly ways of attracting women both into and back to the clinical professions, says Committee member Peter Brand, Liberal Democrat MP for Isle of Wight

He told HSJ the problem was best symbolised in his own constituency by reports that 70 nurses from the local trust applied for jobs at a new branch of Marks & Spencers.

He also expects the committee to look into the possible benefits of some common training between nurses and doctors, and whether more flexibility will improve job satisfaction and break down the 'tribalism' which affects NHS occupations.