HC Deb 14 April 1937 vol 322 cc1014-7
Mr. Kirby

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for the limitation of hours of work for persons employed in or in connection with hospitals and institutions under the control of local authorities. I ask the indulgence of the House in undertaking this task for the first time. I would point out that the Bill relates entirely to hospitals and institutions that are controlled by local authorities and does not in any way apply to voluntary hospitals or institutions of that character. I am sure that it would be the wish of many of my hon. Friends, and it certainly would be my own wish, to have it cover voluntary establishments as well, but we realise the difficulties that a Bill of this sort might bring to those organisations, and for that reason they are deliberately excluded from the Bill. This Bill provides for a maximum working week of 48 hours for the outdoor staffs of hospitals and similar institutions controlled by local authorities, and, in the event of urgency or emergency, for those hours to be exceeded providing that overtime is paid at the usual scales as provided for in agreements between employers and workpeople. So far as the indoor staffs are concerned, the Bill provides for 96 hours work in each fortnight, and there are the same provisions in regard to overtime as are applied to the ordinary outdoor staffs.

It may be asked why it should be 48 hours per week for the outdoor staff and 96 hours per fortnight for the indoor staff, and the best explanation that I can give is to say that the work of the inside staff requires a little more elasticity, so far as the arrangements for their duties are concerned. I think it will be generally agreed that, so far as the nursing and other indoor staffs are concerned, it is desirable that a line not too strict in character should be laid down for them in order that the emergencies of the nursing service should be provided for, if necessary, and with a 96-hours fortnight instead of a 48-hours week I think it will be found that there is a much wider scope for the indoor staff on their various duties and shifts than if it was confined to a 48-hours week. We believe that so far as that provision is concerned, it will be a special boon to the smaller institutions and hospitals, where they have a very small number of persons to play about with. The other provision in the Bill is that every worker, whether employed on the indoor staff or on the outdoor staff, should have a rest day in every week, a full period of 24 hours off duty for every calendar week that is worked, in order that they shall have the ordinary rest day which is customary in services outside those of hospitals and such institutions.

It may be asked why such a Bill should be introduced. All I can say is that the conditions in hospitals and institutions of a similar character have been widely investigated during the past two years by many persons and organisations, including social workers, trade unions, members of local authorities and organisations representing the medical and nursing professions. These investigations go to show that there is chaos generally in their management, which requires rationalising and regularising in a great number of ways, and particularly in regard to hours. One of the amazing facts which emerged from these investigations is that the outdoor staffs enjoy very much better conditions and shorter hours than most of the indoor staff, and in regard to that I want to say that I am sure we shall be unanimous in wishing to protect the men and women who, with a high sense of public duty and great courage and devotion, perform these untiring and unselfish duties in our great public hospitals and institutions.

The fact is that at the present moment those people who work outside these institutions, motormen and ambulance attendants, by reason of the fact that they are in a trade union, enjoy better hours and conditions of labour than many of the nursing staff employed inside, and we are particularly anxious that so far as the inside staff is concerned the Bill should become an Act of Parliament very soon. Even if there are hon. Members who are not prepared to go as far as the Bill goes in regard to the outdoor staff, I hope they will agree to the Motion, so that the conditions under which nursing staffs now work shall be fully investigated by the House. These are, possibly, the only explanations I need give of the Bill at this stage, but I hope the House will allow me to conclude by giving quotations from two letters I have received which relate particularly to the conditions of the nursing staffs in hospitals and institutions. The first quotation is from a national organiser of a responsible trade union catering for this class of worker. He says: Owing to the long hours, which are aggravated particularly by split duties, or spread-over system, a number of authorities are finding it almost impossible to recruit adequate nursing staffs for their hospitals. The most recent case I know of in this connection is that of the—county council, whose chief officer reported that he was unable to recruit the necessary number of nurses to staff their hospitals and institutions, and that in fact, at the present time they are short staffed. The other quotation is from a lady member of a local authority. She says: The facts are that great difficulty is being experienced at the moment throughout the country in inducing women to enter institutional life owing to the prevailing conditions. With regard to the nurses a very acute shortage of entrants to the profession is being experienced especially by municipal hospitals. It would be true to say that if a serious epidemic occurred in London or in one of the large provincial towns there would not be a sufficient staff to man the hospitals. … The reasons given for this are long hours of duty spread over insufficient leisure time and so on. In view of the time, I will conclude by asking the House to give me leave to introduce the Bill, in order that its proposals may be further investigated and explored.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Kirby, Mr. Marshall, Mr. Adamson, Mr. Hicks, Mr. Dobbie, and Mr. Thorne.