There has been a major decrease in the number of awards of ill health retirement in the NHS—from 9,520 per year in 1993-94 to 2,673 per year in 2005-06. It was estimated in November 2001 that each ill health retirement involving a pension cost the pension fund up to an extra £60,000, and cost the trust the same again in indirect costs.
I certainly can give my hon. Friend that assurance, and I also wish to pay tribute to him and other colleagues in the trade union movement who have played a part in bringing down the number of ill health retirements in the NHS. The NHS as an employer has been in the spotlight this year, and today in the House, but sometimes the good things that it does—including the way in which it looks after its staff—do not get the appropriate praise. We should give the NHS that praise. My hon. Friend will know that the NHS, in consultation with the unions, has looked at managing ill health retirement and, by making earlier use of occupational health services and redeploying staff from onerous duties, it has managed to bring down the figures. More work remains to be done, but I would never countenance the manipulation of the figures that my hon. Friend suggests.
Those figures, which are welcome, suggest abuse in the past, and that people have retired on health grounds without justification. At a time when we are reorganising the NHS, will my hon. Friend and his colleagues ensure that any applications for retirement on grounds of ill health or redundancy are rigorously examined, bearing in mind the fact that there is a duty on the trade union and the employer to explore all opportunities for redeployment, to avoid those bogus and costly charges on the public purse?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Of course, the peak of 9,500 in the early 1990s was for a much smaller work force. The figure for the last financial year—2,673—is for a much larger work force, with some 300,000 extra staff. That shows a much better performance. My hon. Friend is right about redeployment, and we will continue to work with NHS employers to look at every possibility for keeping staff in the service and retaining their skills and knowledge, by helping them to work elsewhere if they are struggling in their existing job. I will reflect more on the important point that my hon. Friend makes.