HC Deb 27 April 1976 vol 910 cc197-9

3.41 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Steen (Liverpool, Waver tree)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision with respect to the school health service and the status of its workers; and for connected purposes. For 60 years, the health of our nation's children has been entrusted to school nurse—qualified State registered nurses and State enrolled nurses who have specialised in community care within the school health service. In 1962, the health visitors certificate was introduced as an extra qualification and school nurses who completed the eight-months course increased both their status and their pay. The differential in 1970 between those who had the certificate and those who had not was about £180 a year.

In 1975, the Government, by accepting the Halsbury recommendations on nursing, distinguished between those with the certificate and those without it. They upgraded those who had the certificate and downgraded those who had not. Nurses who did not have the certificate were placed on the lowly rung of the nursing ladder—staff nurse.

Though other nurses working in the community, such as district nurses and district midwives, have had their status raised, the school nurses have not, although their job is partly in the school but mostly in the community. Unless a school nurse has the HV certificate, she reverts to square one and goes back to the basic grade even though she may have been nursing for 30 years or more.

In the 1950s and 1960s many nurses who had become ward sisters responded to the call for them to gain wider experience in the community and a considerable number joined the school health service. Even they will be pushed back to the basic grade while those who have recently qualified as nurses and have been fortunate enough to take the certificate are put in the top grade. The salary differential is approximately £1,200 between school nurses who have the certificate and those who have not, and with community nurses £900.

Whether the school nurse has the HV certificate or not, she does exactly the same job, with exactly the same duties and responsibility. Why does she receive around £1,200 a year less? Why have her pension rights been reduced, and why is she subjected to the stigma of demotion in status?

It is as if Halsbury and the Government have no regard for a lifetime of experience and give no credits to past service or a host of other qualifications which many of the school nurses possess, such as State certified midwife, certificate in tropical diseases and qualifications from the Royal Institute of Public Health and Hygiene. Have the Government the audacity and effrontery to suggest that 20 or 30 years' experience in nursing is irrelevant whereas an eight-months training certificate is not?

It is as if the Government are casting a blind eye to the fact that, since the HV certificate has been in existence for only 14 years, only approximately half the school nurses can have it. Of the 4,375 nurses in the school health service, 2,236 have the certificate. Yet school nurses without the certificate have successfully brought up generations of our children and in many of our great cities the majority of nursing staff in schools today are without the HV certificate. In Liverpool, 57 of the 74 school nurses do not have the certificate and they are penalised when running the service. Yet without them, the service would collapse. They are penalised when they are at work and they will be penalised when they retire.

One of the arguments put forward is that the HV certificate enables nurses to undertake a wider range of duties. That is correct, but in the school health service it is untrue because the work done is identical and, inevitably, those who have been there the longest tend to be the most experienced and those who have Just come into the service are only too happy to be taught by them.

Last July, the Government acknowledged that the discrimination among members of the staff of the National Health Service was wrong and that the situation of nurses within the school health service was anomalous. The Minister went on to say that he recognised that the matter was causing a great deal of unrest and that further representations would be considered from the staff side. But what has happened since then? In spite of these pious and hopeful words, the distasteful and repellent distinction still exists.

The anomaly is divisive, unjust and unfair. Surely it must be as repugnant to the Government so full of purported high principles as it was to those 70 hon. Members on all sides of the House who put their name to Early-Day Motion No. 487 last year calling on the Government to put things right. Yet nothing has been done. Surely a Government which set up an Equal Opportunities Commission must recognise the rights of each individual to get equal pay for equal work.

So long as the Government continue to ignore the plight of school nurses without the HV certificate, all of us here are collectively responsible and each one of us should feel deeply ashamed. This Bill will put right what is so clearly so wrong.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Anthony Steen, Mr. A. J. Beith, Mr. Sydney Bidwell, Mr. Peter Bottomley, Mrs. Lynda Chalker, Mr. Tony Durant, Mr. Bryan Gould, Miss Joan Lestor, Mr. William Molloy, Mr. Wm. Ross, Mr. Raphael Tuck and Sir George Young.