HC Deb 09 May 1978 vol 949 cc950-2
1. Mr. Molloy

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he is satisfied with industrial relations within the National Health Service; and if he will make a statement.

The Secretary of State for Social Services (Mr. David Ennals)

It would be difficult ever to be fully satisfied with the state of industrial relations within the National Health Service, given its size and diversity. But I and my colleagues are constantly seeking to effect improvements.

Mr. Molloy

Is my right hon. Friend aware that much of the negotiation that goes on within the Health Service with the trade unions involved is concerned with improving the efficiency of the Service and the welfare of patients? Does he not agree that this is in marked contrast to some statements by leading Members of the Opposition? Will he also consider the legal position of male nurses in psychiatric hospitals and wards, and the great strain that is imposed upon them? Will he look at their problems?

Mr. Ennals

It is absolutely true that the nursing unions and the staff side in general are basically concerned with the strength of the Service and the welfare of patients. The question of nurses in mental hospitals is an issue that I have discussed especially with CoHSE, and I am certainly ready to have further discussions with it.

As far as the Opposition are concerned, it seems to me that they are constantly stirring up trouble by launching new attacks on trade union leaders, calling for new cuts in public expenditure, urging the reintroduction of pay beds and new charges, and threatening uncertainty among workers by proposing reorganisation of the Service. That is their contribution to industrial relations in the National Health Service.

Mr. Rhodes James

Is the Secretary of State aware of the continuing sense of grievance felt by telephonists in the NHS, particularly about their conditions and pay as compared with those in the Post Office?

Mr. Ennals

This is a matter with which the House and public have concerned themselves before. It is being looked at through the proper channels between staff side and management. Certainly we know of the grievances, but it is proper that the telephonists should pursue these grievances in a proper manner rather than take the sort of industrial action to which they have resorted.

Mrs. Castle

Does my right hon. Friend agree that morale in the Health Service is closely linked with the question of pay beds? Will he make a statement on the introduction of common waiting lists, as recommended by the Health Services Board in a report which he received many, many months ago?

Mr. Ennals

I know that I have disappointed my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) because it has taken some time for consultation. However, I am anxious that when we take a decision as a result of this consultation it will further improve morale within the Health Service. That is why I think it is proper to consult fully those who agreed with our decision and those who disagreed with it.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

Will the Secretary of State now answer the question that he did not answer in the debate on 20th April? Does he accept unequivocally that clinical safety must be the responsibility of those qualified to take clinical decisions? Will he support health authorities which transfer or dismiss staff whose conduct has been shown to be prejudicial to the safety of patients?

Mr. Ennals

I shall want to give further consideration to the second question put by the hon. Gentleman because I would want to know the circumstances in which persons had been transferred. If he tables a Question, I shall deal with it. The safety of patients is important. In my discussions with the leaders of the medical profession and with leading trade unions, an interesting idea, put forward and supported by a number of those concerned, was that we should have special committees directly concerned with the safety of patients. Such committees would not be involved in the negotiations but would have the prime duty of saying "Thus far and no further, because the safety of patients is concerned." That is a very helpful proposal.

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