HC Deb 25 March 1986 vol 94 cc777-9
9. Mr. Pavitt

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will make a statement about the proposals he has received from regional health authorities to evict nurses from residential accommodation in order to realise assets for National Health Service funding.

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

Authorities have been asked to prepare plans showing how many units of staff accommodation they propose to provide from the beginning of 1988. The Department is currently discussing these plans, some only in draft form, with the 14 regional health authorities.

Mr. Pavitt

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that some health authorities are jumping the gun and that some nurses have already been given notice that they may be evicted? Is he aware that, under the 1977 legislation, nurses have the security of tenure which is given to other tenants? Is the right hon. Gentleman making money available so that these cases can be taken to the magistrates' courts? If such cases arise in Fulham before 10 April, will he go to the magistrates' court to evict the nurses?

Mr. Fowler

I think that the last point is a ludicrous mis-statement of what the policy is all about. What health authorities are doing is to review their stock of accommodation. It follows an examination which suggested that one fifth of National Health Service accommodation was standing empty. That is a totally indefensible position. Therefore, what we are doing is seeking to have a policy which uses National Health Service accommodation. What I have made clear, and what I repeat, is that special protection will be given to nurses in training.

Mr. Onslow

While I do not disagree with my right hon. Friend that there should be no waste in this sector of the Health Service any more than in any other, when the plans put forward by regional health authorities to help a district clearly do not take full account of the actual circumstances in that health district, will my right hon. Friend give instructions that they should be withdrawn for reconsideration?

Mr. Fowler

Yes, Sir. This is the whole purpose of what we are seeking to do. Ministers and the Department will review the plans that come up before they are put into operation.

Mr. Freeson

Why is the Minister fudging answers to this question? Is it not the case that it is Government policy for health authorities to dispose of all these properties, or as many of them as possible, and that action is being taken now? Will he ensure that that kind of policy is not given support by the Department in future and, if there are to be disposals of property in some cases, that the land and property in question are in the first instance offered to local authorities and other bodies, which provide much-needed services for areas in need?

Mr. Fowler

The right hon. Gentleman has entirely mis-stated the policy. What we are saying to health authorities is that if the property is not used, for example, if it is standing empty, it should be sold. Even the right hon. Gentleman might agree with that policy. We will protect the position of nurses in training and we will sell that accommodation to those who are living in it at special discount rates. In addition, we will put the proceeds of these sales to the benefit of the Health Service, and that is surely a sensible thing to do.

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley

Is it not inappropriate for the National Health Service to behave in large measure like a housing authority, too often looking after accommodation which is under-utilised, poorly maintained and badly organised? Is he aware that in my own area, where housing policies have been reviewed, many long-standing tenants have been able to buy their own property, and other property has been sold off, thus releasing resources to improve nurses' accommodation?

Mr. Fowler

I entirely agree with everything that my hon. Friend has said. The fact is that the proceeds will go to health authorities. The first call on those proceeds will be to improve nurses' accommodation. The proceeds will also be used to improve the capital stock. Under this Government, in 1981 we released about £19 million from the sale of land and buildings to the benefit of the Health Service. Next year, that figure will be over £130 million—all to the benefit of the Health Service.

Mr. Dobson

Aside from all the waffle, will the Secretary of State guarantee that no district health authority will resort to the courts to force nurses to leave accommodation in which they wish to remain?

Mr. Fowler

I can give that guarantee. I would ask the hon. Gentleman, aside from his prejudice, to look at the policy and at the impact and effect that it will have upon developing services and facilities in the Health Service.

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