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Mental Nurses (Shortage)

Volume 527: debated on Thursday 13 May 1954

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asked the Minister of Health whether, in view of the shortage of mental nurses, he will approve the establishment of a separate Whitley Council for mental nurses.

Is the Minister aware that his reply will disappoint many people who believe that so long as pay and conditions in the nursing services for the mental and mentally defective are subject to the same conditions as those of the nursing service as a whole there will be very little prospect of attracting new recruits to this extremely exacting branch of the profession?

Although this problem causes us all concern, the solution must be a matter of opinion. It is a much wider affair than a mere change of Whitley machinery. I have given the House figures showing that we are tackling this problem on a much wider front, and I look to results from this rather than from the suggestion contained in the hon. Member's Question.

Does the Minister agree that, in general, the introduction of individual Whitley Councils for individual grades is a retrograde step, and that the larger the Council and the greater the number of grades included the easier it is to make a comparison of the duties performed?

That is a very wide generalisation. I think that the present procedure is right in this respect. There is a special standing committee for mental nurses on the Staff Side of the Whitley Council.


asked the Minister of Health the present shortage of nursing staff in hospitals for mental defectives; whether this is an improvement or otherwise compared with preceding years; how many beds are not used because of the shortage; how many are now waiting admission; what further steps have been taken or considered in order to secure additional trainees and nurses in these hospitals; and what percentage of student nurses do not complete their training.

Estimates in this field vary and are not very reliable. The latest is about 2,300 for December, 1952. The nursing staff of mental deficiency hospitals was, at 30th September, 1953, 6,600 full-time and 2,200 part-time, an increase of 480 full-time and 740 part-time over the figures at 31st December, 1948. At 31st December, 1952, there were 1,587 unstaffed beds. The waiting list at 31st December, 1953, was 8,521.

I will send the hon. Member a copy of the memorandum to hospital authorities dealing with measures taken to improve recruitment. Between 60 per cent, and 70 per cent, of student nurses in this field fail to complete training.

While thanking the hon. Lady for her reply, and being gratified that there has been some slight progress, may I ask whether any extra special efforts are being made to recruit nurses for this very important branch of the nursing service, particularly in view of the large number who give up the work after a short time?

The hon. Member will be aware that my right hon. Friend is concentrating on the recruiting of nurses for this work this year. Experiments are taking place under the aegis of the General Nursing Council. We have recommended various measures that are outlined in the memorandum that I will send to the hon. Member.