HC Deb 30 January 1979 vol 961 cc1218-21
3. Mr. Peter Bottomley

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what is the current annual average earnings of a State registered nurse at a mental hospital.

13. Mr. Brooke

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what are the current annual average earnings of a State registered nurse at a mental hospital.

Mr. Ennals

Information on the annual average earnings of this particular group of staff is not available. The pay of a State registered nurse working in a psychiatric hospital who also has a qualification in psychiatric nursing is on the scale £2,941 to £3,550. This includes an allowance of £165 for working in a psychiatric hospital.

Mr. Bottomley

What is the right hon. Gentleman's view about the pay of these nurses being increased in line with that of lorry drivers?

Mr. Ennals

The hon. Gentleman knows that nurses and midwives have submitted a claim to be treated as a special case. The Government are giving serious consideration to that claim. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has already received a deputation from them. Discussions are proceeding and the Government will make an announcement as soon as a decision has been taken.

Mr. Brooke

The whole House would wish that those who cannot look after themselves properly should be looked after properly. Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that proper staffing of a proper quality can be maintained at the present level of earnings?

Mr. Ennals

There is no doubt that if there were higher levels of earnings there would be faster recruitment. It is true that there are shortages of nurses in some areas where recruitment is difficult, partly for geographical reasons and partly, perhaps, for pay reasons. However, there has recently been an improvement in the numbers coming forward for training. We continue to see a steady increase in the number of nurses working in the National Health Service.

Mr. Pavitt

Is my right hon. Friend seized of the importance of danger money in psychiatric nursing? Is he aware that if a qualified mental nurse is in a locked ward it is his skill and his knowledge that enables him to ensure not only his own safety but that of his patients? When he is considering these matters, will he bear in mind the need to recruit nurses and the needs of this specialty? Will he take special cognisance of these matters in his negotiations on pay with the nurses?

Mr. Ennals

I shall bear that in mind. It is important to have enough nurses in our psychiatric hospitals. It is because there have been difficulties in recruiting that we have made the special additional payment available to those who work in psychiatric hospitals. I am sure that that is right.

Sir William Elliott

In his discussions with the leaders of the nursing profession, will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that in these days of enormous wage claims the country as a whole is especially worried about differentials? Does he agree that in the nursing profession there is a need to give extra reward to those who have obtained higher qualifications and that the present state of affairs in the profession is far from satisfactory?

Mr. Ennals

I know that arguments will be advanced in favour of special assistance for those at the lower end of the scale, the low paid, and in favour of those at the higher end of the scale. That is always a problem. If we deal with a low pay problem by awarding a substantial increase the differentials are extended but there is still a group at the bottom of the list whose members are called the low-paid. I agree that there is a great deal of feeling among nurses on this issue. There is a great deal of public support for nurses because of the nature of their work. That is why the Government are giving serious consideration to the claims that they have submitted.

Mrs. Wise

Does my right hon. Friend recognise that we on the Labour Benches want to see nurses properly paid? Will he take the opportunity to remind the Opposition that private expenditure by nurses and others in the public sector depends on there being an adequate level of public expenditure in the first place?

Mr. Ennals

That is true. It was in 1970 that the Labour Government made a major advance in the level of nurses' pay. They picked them up virtually off the floor. It was in 1974, at the time of the Halsbury award, that a Labour Government made a sizeable increase in the level of nurses' pay. It ill becomes Opposition Members to criticise our performance.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that he and his predecessors have been in charge of these matters for five years? Does he realise that the nurses submitted their claim for special treatment in the middle of last year? How much longer will they have to wait for an answer? Does he recognise that the anger that a number of us faced in Central Hall a few days ago—a meeting that no Minister attended—was due as much as anything to the fact that they have been kept waiting month after month for an answer? When will the Government give them the answer?

Mr. Ennals

The claim was submitted very early because it was the nurses' hope, and their case, that they would receive some additional payment over and above the 10 per cent. that they received in the present pay year, which ends in April 1979. On behalf of the Government I had to say that the guideline for that pay year applied as much to the nurses as it did to any other group in society.

We are considering the claim that they have made for a settlement from 1 April 1979. I realise that nurses are anxious and impatient. However, there is some time to go and they should not conclude that the Government have forgotten their case. We are considering it carefully.

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