HC Deb 27 July 1976 vol 916 cc239-42
12. Mr. Fell

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will meet the Royal College of Nursing.

19. Mr. Jim Spicer

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services when he next intends to visit the Royal College of Nursing.

Mr. Ennals

I met representatives of the Royal College of Nursing on 19th May and they know that I am very willing to meet them as and when there is need.

Mr. Fell

How is the suggested growth rate of 6 per cent. in the district nursing service and the health visitors' service to be achieved within the present budget? Where will the nurses come from?

Mr. Ennals

There is no problem about where the nurses will come from; there is a steady increase in the number of nurses and midwives in the NHS. It is estimated that in September this year there will be 20,000 more nurses and midwives, or their whole-time equivalent, than there were two years before. We do not have a problem in the recruitment of nurses, and there has been a good intake into nurses' training schools. I share the concern of all those who want to see a sufficient number of health visitors and district nurse tutors.

Mr. Spicer

When the right hon. Gentleman meets the representatives of the Royal College, will he discuss with them the increasing tendency to bypass the joint consultative committees and for unilateral action to be taken by the trade unions, rather than their using these committees? This matter is of increasing concern to the Royal College and to all Members of this House and the public. Will the right hon. Gentleman consider giving guidance to the area health authorities on the action they should take when this practice occurs?

Mr. Ennals

As I said in reply to the right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin) on 27th May, the present arrangements for local joint staff consultation committees in the NHS embodied in the general Whitley Council agreement do not distinguish between affiliated trade unions and professional organisations. I understand that these arrangements are reflected in individual committees, but I am aware that there have been difficulties in a few places. My advice to the health authority is that since participation must be on an entirely voluntary basis it must negotiate with its staff the most effective arrangements appropriate to local circumstances.

Mr. William Hamilton

Will my right hon. Friend tell the House what proportion of the total nursing personnel in the health service are coloured, from the New Commonwealth? Will he take advantage of this question to pay tribute to the noble work that they are doing?

Mr. Ennals

I am afraid that I cannot give the figures. I am not certain whether they would be available from the lists of those who have been taken into employment. Colour is not a consideration. I pay warm tribute to the service given to the National Health Service by nurses from many parts of the world. I think that it has to be said that it would be difficult to provide the services in National Health Service hospitals today were it not for the admirable work done by people from many parts of the world, particularly from Commonwealth countries.

Mrs. Chalker

Is the Secretary of State aware that he gave a weak answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Spicer)? Is he further aware that there is extreme disquiet among nurses, who in some area health authorities are not even getting equal treatment with other employees in the National Health Service? Will he undertake to do something rather more positive about it than he has been able to do so far?

Mr. Ennals

The hon. Lady is getting very worked up. I shall give an additional answer to that which I gave the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell). I have said that there continues to be a steady increase in the number of nurses in the National Health Service. The hon. Lady will know that the review of public expenditure shows a continuing expansion, or a continuing rate of growth, in the service. That includes nurses. No doubt the House, including the hon. Lady, will have noted, in the decision announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on public expenditure cuts for 1977–78, that no inroad has been made into the revenue expenses of the National Health Service. They have been absolutely protected.

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