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Hospital Nurses

Volume 957: debated on Tuesday 7 November 1978

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asked the Sectary of State for Social Services if he will make a statement about his recent meeting with representatives of the hospital nurses' organisations.


asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what representations he has received from the nursing profession about the present state of recruitment of nurses.

On 30th October, I met a deputation from the council of the Royal College of Nursing. The subjects discussed included morale, pay, the numbers entering training and various aspects of the financing and organisation of the National Health Service.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree that it is impossible for nurses, and, indeed, other hospital workers, to supplement pay increases by deals based on productivity or profitability? Against that background, what steps can he take to protect the interests and living standards of people employed in the National Health Service?

My hon. Friend will know that the Nurses and Midwives Whitley Council has made representations to me that nurses should be treated as a special case for pay purposes. The case the council presented and the arguments put forward by the Royal College of Nursing when we met will receive very careful consideration. One of the arguments put to me at that time was that nurses are unable to qualify for productivity agreements—it was not suggested otherwise— and that for that reason, especially, we should look carefuly at their case. Of course, at this stage I cannot give any answer to the application.

Can the Secretary of State confirm that he has received representations from district nurses about their training? Will there be provision in his Bill to give statutory effect to that training, which is so necessary?

Yes, we have received representations from district nurses. Provision for their training will not be included in the Briggs Bill, but other initiatives will be taken. This is an issue on which we shall be ready to answer questions and to debate it when we present the Bill on Monday.

Will my right hon. Friend consider with special sympathy the nurses in mental hospitals, who are suffering grievously from various disabilities, not excluding pay? Will he give an undertaking that nurses who fall within the references to low pay in the White Paper on inflation will also receive sympathetic consideration?

Of course, we are much concerned with the situation of nurses in hospitals for the mentally ill and for the mentally handicapped. Fortunately, in the past few years there has been a substantial improvement in the ratio of nurses to patients in such hospitals. There is still a recruitment problem. As my hon. Friend will know, there is a weighting on the pay of these nurses.

Will the Secretary of State congratulate the Royal College of Nursing on its statement that strike action would not be taken? When does he expect to be able to give an answer to the representations about nurses being a special case?

I cannot say at this stage when the Government will be able to make their decision. Two points were put forward by the Royal College of Nursing. One was a plea that there should be some addition to the 10 per cent. during the present phase 3. The second point was for long-term improvements, which would therefore affect phase 4. I made it clear that it was most unlikely that it would be possible for there to be any further pay in the present round. Clearly, that would be in breach of pay policy. In our longer-term considerations, of course, we are looking at the case very carefully.