HC Deb 15 June 1982 vol 25 cc711-2
1. Mr. Adley

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will make a statement on the effect on the National Health Service of the Confederation of Health Service Employees and National Union of Public Employees dispute.

The Secretary of State for Social Services (Mr. Norman Fowler)

The response to the three national 24-hour stoppages varied across the country. Overall, the effect on hospitals has been that, while doctors and the majority of nurses have maintained patient care, admissions in many districts were restricted to accident and emergencies only and patients were subjected to inconvenience and discomfort. In some instances, emergency cover was not provided.

In addition to those one-day stoppages local action has disrupted administrative and hospital support services in some districts. All of that will have had an adverse effect on patients, which is why we strongly deplore the industrial action being taken.

Mr. Adley

I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. Is he aware that I have recently had a meeting at Christchurch hospital with nurses and ancilliary workers who are angry and unhappy with the present position? Is my right hon. Friend aware that they are equally angry and unhappy about being unwillingly enrolled as some sort of stormtroopers in Arthur Scargill's anti-Government campaign? Will my right hon. Friend take note of that and also of the fact that one of the pleas put to me by the majority of those present was that the Government should start to look at alternative ways of funding the National Health Service?

Mr. Fowler

We are not only looking at my hon. Friend's point about raising additional funds for the National Health Service, but taking action by selling surplus land.

My hon. Friend's first point is of fundamental importance. The National Health Service should be warned that its pay dispute is being used for wider political purposes by people who have no interest in the Health Service. That will be deplored by the service and by the public, because patient care is suffering as a result.

Mr. Mike Thomas

How long will the Minister continue to deny that there is real justice in the health workers' claim? How long will the Government continue to believe that people should be paid between 7 and 14 per cent. more if they have industrial muscle, regardless of the merit of their case, while the nurses and health workers, whose cases have great merit, should be screwed down by the Government simply because they are believed not to have industrial muscle?

Mr. Fowler

I am not sure whether it is part of the SDP's extraordinary incomes policy that Health Service workers should be paid 7 or 14 per cent. more. However, in the next few days I shall be having talks with the Royal College of Nursing. As I announced in the debate last week, Mr. Pat Lowry is opening communications between the unions and the Government. Talks on that are continuing.

Mr. Hoyle

Does the Secretary of State agree that this problem has been caused by his pig-headed attitude towards the Health Service? When will he recognise that there is not only a legitimate case, but that finances should be made available to meet the just claim that has been put forward by the Health Service workers?

Mr. Fowler

Before the hon. Gentleman comes out with such generalisations, I hope that he will recognise that the Health Service unions' claim would cost about £750 million. I do not believe that that is realistic.

Mr. Stokes

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is, unfortunately, an appalling difference in the standard of service set by some employees in the National Health Service compared with the example and dedication of the British people in the South Atlantic?

Mr. Fowler

We should not generalise on that. I should like to pay tribute to the nurses and the other staff who have remained at work in the Health Service while the industrial dispute has taken place.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Instead of deliberately trying to divide one set of Health Service workers from another, will the Secretary of State give a proper mandate to Mr. Pat Lowry and ask him to open negotiations with extra money on the table? If he were really interested in the patients, he would be prepared to do that now.

Mr. Fowler

Because I do not believe for one moment that we can sub-contract the decision about how much the Government can afford to pay in this connection, I have asked for Mr. Lowry's help. Those talks are proceeding, and I hope that the hon. Lady will leave it at that.