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First Schedule—(Constitution And Proceedings Of Assistant Nurses Committee)

Volume 388: debated on Wednesday 7 April 1943

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I beg to move, in page 11, line 30, after "with," to insert "trade unions representing nurses and."

If there is to be consultation, I cannot see why there should not be consultation with trade unions who have a special knowledge of nurses. The object of the Amendment is to ensure that there shall be consultation, not with general bodies, but with those bodies having a special knowledge of assistant nurses. There are trade unions which cater almost specially for that type and their members include nurses working under the local authorities. I do not want to advertise the trade unions—and those that I have in mind do not need to be advertised—but there are two or three very important trade unions whose members come under that category and they should be consulted in company with the other bodies the Minister has in mind in the Schedule.

The Amendment, I can assure the hon. Member, is quite unnecessary. In so far as trade unions have special knowledge and experience of the work of assistant nurses, under the general provisions of the Bill, they will be consulted by me. To put them in now would ipso facto rule out altogether a number of other organisations which will be consulted also. I hope that with that assurance my hon. Friend will withdraw the Amendment.

In view of that assurance, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

Will the House permit me to express my pleasure at having obtained some little concession from the Minister? The Bill can be made the stepping-stone to higher things. If it is left where it is, it is capable of really doing damage, but if it is used as a foundation for creating a real profession, we may live to see the nursing profession, what it ought to be, as a very important partner, comparable with the medical profession. I have never understood why we have regarded nurses in the inferior position in which they have been put. Those who are accustomed to walking the wards of hospitals realise the immense importance of the nurses. The doctor may be clever, but his cleverness will not succeed unless there is an assurance that the work that he directs is going to be carried out faithfully. Mere cleverness is not good enough in a profession such as this. Paper examinations are not all that is wanted. I have seen student nurses who have got well away with their examinations on biology, physiology and anatomy and yet in the wards, because they have lacked those human graces that are required, they have never become really successful nurses.

It is not merely that what one might term the training of the mind that is wanted. A successful nurse has not merely to be an officer; she has to be a character. The qualities which she requires demand the greatest from the individual, patience when it is most needed, kindliness when the conditions, which are her environment, are the most irritating, and strength when she is the most tired. She is not like so many who are engaged in avocations by which they get their living having to satisfy one section of people. It is not only for the nurse to satisfy the sister, the doctor, the matron, the home sister or the sister housekeeper, or all that worried and wonderful army of officials who are her seniors. She has also to satisfy the patient and the patient's relatives. There is no one, in my opinion, who occupies quite the special place in society that the nurse occupies, and I want to do her that measure of credit that comes from gratitude through experience, and to express the hope that this Bill will not be the end of what we are going to do for nurses, but is the beginning of a great and glorious future.

I would like to join with my hon. Friend the Member for South Tottenham (Mr. Messer) in congratulating the Minister on bringing this Bill through the House of Commons so successfully. The nursing profession of this country occupies a place peculiarly its own. My hon. Friend has said that the work of nurses has not been adequately recognised in the past in the social structure of the country. We have only to look back on the raids on this country and the innumerable instances in which the nurses played a great part by displaying courage, tenacity and self-sacrifice. I happen to be the chairman of a hospital, and I cannot find adequate words to express how profoundly I, as one associated with hospital administration in this country, regard the work performed by the nursing profession. I am proud to think that in the House of Commons, through the help of the Minister, who has rendered such admirable service to the health organisations of this country the Bill has been passed and is now going to another place, and that it will be in the interests of the nation. I join in saying how grateful we are to the Minister, though some may think perhaps it is a little belated, that now at all events this Measure has been brought to the House of Commons, and that a great profession, which has been administering for years to the health of our people and carrying burdens which cannot be described in words, is receiving some little recognition. I hope that it is the beginning of what can be done to stabilise and expand the wonderful service which the nursing community has rendered to the health of this nation in the past.

I want to add one word to what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for South Tottenham (Mr. Messer) and the hon. Member for Moseley (Sir P. Hannon) with regard to the position of nurses. This Bill marks a very important stage in the recognition of the value and importance of the nursing profession, but I do not know whether the House and the country realise that the work of hospitals and of doctors—that work which at the present time is so extraordinarily valuable in our Services—is the joint work of doctors and nurses and that the high standard of that work would be entirely and completely impossible without the work of the nurses. Both in the last war and in this war I have had experience in hospitals, and I have had experience in other countries, and I think we are entitled to put on record the fact that the high standard of hospital services in this country—which, unfortunately by no means exists in all other countries—is due to this very close co-operation between the medical and nursing professions.

I rejoice that by means of this Bill we are advancing the status of nurses. I hope it will lead to even greater improvements in the condition of our hospital services and other services in which nurses render valuable aid. It is not only the work of doctors and nurses but their combined work in this characteristically British form of organisation which has given us the excellent services we value so much and which I hope will be improved in the future. I have been told, when talking to matrons of hospitals, that I laid emphasis on what they chose to call the trade union point of view with regard to nurses. Well, I do not wish to lay emphasis on the trade union point of view, but as one who has often in the past been in the unfortunate position of having to pay nurses salaries which I regarded as entirely inadequate I hope that one of the results of the improvement of their status will be an improvement in their financial status as well. I am very much in favour of paying people who are devoted to their calling as well as people who are not devoted.

I would like to add my congratulations to the Minister on having successfully piloted this Bill through the House of Commons. I am glad that the Amendment standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Linstead) and myself has been accepted by the Government. This Bill will do much to add to the status of assistant nurses. It is not, as has been suggested, the first stage in the improvement of the status of nurses: that stage was taken in 1919 when State registered nurses were dealt with. This Bill will increase the status of a body of women who are performing a special task requiring special training and whose work is much needed at the present time. I think the nursing profession is to be congratulated on the fact that from all quarters of the House this Bill has found support and may rest content in knowing that all quarters of the House are determined to see that it has a fair deal.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Tottenham (Mr. Messer) mentioned a number of qualifications necessary if a nurse is to do good work. As one who has recently benefited from nursing, I would like to add one other characteristic—iron constitution and strength. If I asked Members of Parliament how many miles a day a nurse walked in the course of her duties, I wonder what reply would be given? I said to the nursing sister who was attending me, "How many miles a day do you walk?" and she replied that she had recently carried out the experiment of putting a pedometer on her leg and taking note of the average mileage over a month. The result was that she found that she never walked less than nine miles a day up and down the same corridor, and on one day she did 13 miles. When it is considered that that is not an abnormal case and that at the end of every journey there was some mission of healing to be done, one can well understand how important it is to raise the status of nurses and, with that status, their conditions.

I suggest that there are still two things that need looking into. One is to make quite sure that the governing bodies of hospitals and all those responsible for nurses see that they get adequate time off each day. That is almost as important as remuneration. There are still hospitals that do not allow adequate time for recreation and leisure for their nurses. There could be, too, in many hospitals an improvement in feeding conditions and living quarters. I have come across hospitals where very inadequate sleeping conditions have been provided for nurses who, after a heavy day's work, have found it very difficult, owing to noise, to get an adequate and refreshing night's sleep. I want to conclude by adding my tribute to the Minister for having got through this sensible and practicable piece of legislation.

I would not have spoken at all if it was not for the fact that I have been a member of several Committees since I have been in the House of Commons, and it gives me a great deal of delight and joy when recommendations of any Committee of which I have been a member have been accepted. That is the case to-day. The thing that impressed me very largely when I sat on the Committee that made the recommendations upon which this Bill is based is that it does not matter so much about examinations and State registration if there are good conditions of employment and there is keen competition within the nursing profession. I hope the Minister will bear in mind the very important factor of conditions of employment for nurses. The Minister and Members of all parties are looking forward in the near future to a great advance in the health services of the nation, and there is no better contribution to that advance than a contented, well-organised and well-treated nursing profession.

I, also, would like to add my appreciation of the great services of nurses in this country. I was in a hospital as recently as last Monday and saw some of them there caring with gentleness and thoughtfulness for some of those who have suffered as the result of war—and some were suffering very much. I appreciate more the work of nurses because I am conscious of the fact that the nurses at the Manor House Hospital, by their devotion, are responsible for my hon. Friend and colleague the Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) being here at the present time. That is something which I know the House will take note of and appreciate. Reference has been made to the new status of nurses. After the last war we were told that we in the engineering trade had a new status, but almost immediately afterwards all the engineers left the trade because, although they had a new status, they got no cash. So when we are paying tributes—and we cannot pay a high enough tribute to our nurses—never let us forget that along with that tribute there should be the necessary amount of hard cash.

I do not want to detain the House for more than a few moments, except to say first of all that I am grateful to those Members who have taken an interest in the Committee stage of the Bill and for the practical way in which they have helped us to get it through. I agree with all that has been said about our nurses, but there is one other quality which was missing from the catalogue, and I think I ought to add it. It is patience—a great quality and one that is sometimes overlooked. I have been fortunate up to now in having good health, with the exception of wounds, when I did see something of the work of our nurses, and it is because of that experience that I and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary have been especially glad to promote this Bill. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has, indeed, taken a day-to-day interest in the nursing profession and has established herself as one of its strongest supporters. It is a happy thing that we should pass this Bill in the same week as a national scale of salaries becomes effective for the first time.

Question, "That the Bill be now read the Third time," put, and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.