HC Deb 06 February 1956 vol 548 cc1341-3
66. Mr. K. Robinson

asked the Minister of Health if his attention has been called to the demonstration by mental nurses at the opening in Manchester of the Mental Health Exhibition sponsored by his Department, and to the banning of overtime by nurses in four mental hospitals in Lancashire; and what action he proposes to take to improve the pay and conditions of mental nurses and to encourage recruitment.

Mr. Turton

My attention has been called to the action taken by some mental nurses in the Manchester area, and I feel sure that hon. Members will join with me in deploring it. The banning of overtime is bound to be hurtful to the patients in the hospitals affected, and I am informed that admissions of voluntary patients are already being restricted at Lancaster Moor and Whittingham Hospitals. The demonstration at the opening of the Mental Health Exhibition cannot fail to prejudice our efforts to attract recruits to this important service.

The proper machinery for dealing with pay and conditions of service of mental nurses is the Nurses' and Midwives Whitley Council. I am informed that a claim for increases in the pay of all nurses has just been submitted by the Staff Side of that Council and that a claim for an enhanced rate of overtime pay is already being considered by the Management Side.

As regards action to encourage recruitment, I would refer the hon. Member to the answer given to my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) on 31st October, 1955.

Mr. Robinson

Does the Minister not appreciate what an extremely serious situation there must be in mental nursing to drive mental nurses to extreme measures like this? Does he not realise that the responsibility is his and he cannot shift it on to the shoulders of the Whitley Council? Is he further aware that there is strong dissatisfaction with the working of the Whitley Council in the nursing profession, and will he consider setting up a separate Whitley Council for mental nurses?

Mr. Turton

No. The proper machinery is that of the Whitley Council. It would be quite wrong for me to interfere with that machinery.

Dr. Summerskill

Will the Minister not reconsider that answer? Is he not aware that the attention of his predecessor has been drawn time after time to the gross overcrowding of these hospitals and the consistent overworking of these nurses? These people have taken this action after exercising the greatest patience over years. In view of this, will the Minister tell the House what he proposes to do?

Mr. Turton

I am concerned at conditions in some of the mental hospitals, especially in the Lancashire area, and will certainly consider ways of improving the situation. What I have said is that I think it is quite wrong that the patients in the hospitals should be punished by the action taken by the nurses in drawing attention to this matter.

Mrs. Braddock

Is the Minister aware that since the Question was framed action has been taken by mental nurses in other mental hospitals? What they are concerned about is the length of time that it takes for claims to be considered when they are submitted. Is it not a fact that the right hon. Gentleman's Department can take steps to speed up the handling of claims that are in for months on end, and prevent this kind of action having to be taken to draw attention to the situation?

Mr. Turton

No. My Department must not interfere with the Whitley Councils.

Dame Irene Ward

Has my right hon. Friend had any representations from the appropriate Whitley Council disagreeing with the operation of that machinery?

Mr. Turton

I have not had any such representation since assuming my present office.

Mrs. Castle

Is the Minister not aware that his first Answer this afternoon will do more to prejudice recruitment to the mental nursing profession than, he says, the demonstration has done? Do not his whole Answer and attitude reveal the kind of "Do nothing" approach which these nurses are up against?

Mr. Turton

No. I hope that when the hon. Lady reads my Answer, she will reverse that opinion.