Basic pay for a newly qualified nurse has increased from £12,385 in 1997 to £19,645 by November this year.
I thank my right hon. Friend for putting into context the large and fully justified pay increases for student nurses since 1997. New nurses need to know, however, that they have an adequate career path once they enter the service. Will she indicate what “Agenda for Change” means for nurses throughout their careers?
My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. One of the most important reforms introduced by “Agenda for Change” was to open up new opportunities for nurses to build their skills and take on new responsibilities. Under the old Whitley scale, a clinical nurse specialist grade 1 could hope to achieve a salary of £26,000—barely twice that of a newly qualified nurse. Under the new system of “Agenda for Change”, by November this year a nurse consultant at the highest level will be able to earn more than £90,600, which is a measure of the change and improvement that we have been able to make.
I understand the concerns of nurses and other health service staff about the staging of the pay award. When we accepted the independent pay review body recommendations across the public sector, not simply those for the NHS, we decided to stage the implementation for this year as we took account of the wider economic position on inflation and interest rates. That is not only fair to nurses and other public sector staff, but right for the public as a whole.
I acknowledge the increases in pay over the years, which were clearly needed. Nurses are still, however, one of the lowest- paid groups of professionals in public service. Does the Secretary of State accept that nurses this year are getting a real-terms cut in pay, and that the impact on morale of the phased increase, combined with the fact that many newly qualified nurses have no job at all, is really damaging the profession? Is she proud of that situation as we approach the 10th anniversary of the Labour Government?
I have just explained, as I have on many occasions, why it was necessary to take account of the wider economic circumstances. It would not be in the interests of newly qualified nurses or anybody else were we to see inflation and interest rates return to the levels that they reached under the Conservative Government. We will not take risks with the economic stability and strength that have been achieved, particularly as a result of the policies of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. The hon. Gentleman mentioned newly qualified nurses and their difficulties in getting jobs. We are making great efforts to ensure that the NHS in each region finds appropriate posts for newly qualified NHS staff to address that precise issue.
Not only are nurses receiving a real-terms cut but the Department of Health originally argued for a pay rise of only 1.5 per cent. Given that the independent review body for nursing not only rejected the Government’s figures but criticised the Department of Health for failing to provide any evidence as to how its estimate was reached, does the Secretary of State understand how angry and cheated nurses up and down the country feel when the Government seem to be plucking figures out of thin air in order to keep salaries low?
Salaries for nurses and other NHS staff are a great deal higher than they were under the Conservative Government, and a great deal higher than they would have been under the Conservative party’s new policy of cutting public spending to make way for tax cuts.
I remind the hon. Gentleman that there are over 80,000 more nurses in the NHS now than there were when we were elected 10 years ago. Not only has their pay increased substantially and not only will it continue to rise substantially this year as a result of the increments under “Agenda for Change”, but nurses are increasingly enjoying more flexible working conditions and support for child care needs—and, of course, much better holidays, maternity and paternity leave and pay than they ever enjoyed under the hon. Gentleman’s party.