§ 5. Mr. McCrindle
To ask the Secretary of State for Health what is the average time taken for an appeal concerning pay and conditions, including grading, in the National Health Service to be heard; and if he will seek to reduce the time taken.
§ Mr. Kenneth Clarke
We do not collect information centrally on the average time taken to process appeals. However, on 5 December I wrote to regional health authority chairmen asking health authorities to adopt a range of measures aimed at ensuring that the appeals process works quickly and effectively.
§ Mr. McCrindle
Is it not becoming clear that the Royal College of Nursing was absolutely right to resist industrial action and to pursue claims through the appeals procedure? Is my right hon. and learned Friend satisfied that all health authorities are moving to hear those appeals at the same speed? Has any consideration been given to hearing a number of those appeals together to expedite a solution to the problem?
§ Mr. Clarke
The Royal College of Nursing always pressed for the regrading arrangement and the new grading structure. Since we introduced it, the college has tried to help with difficulties and has discussed with me means by which we speed up the appeals process. I am sure that all the authorities will try to proceed as quickly as possible. The difficulty is that a few are flooded out by many speculative appeals which people have been encouraged to put in when there is no real basis for claims. We believe that the appeal process, properly implemented, can deal with legitimate grievances and, I hope, sort them all out by the spring of next year.
§ Mr. Clarke
I have made it clear that I will not talk to representatives of the Confederation of Health Service Employees and the National Union of Public Employees while they are still trying to organise industrial action. I know that not much industrial action is still taking place, but they have not yet withdrawn their attempts to stir it up. I cannot have discussions with anyone in which I seek to substitute myself as Secretary of State for the 757 management side of the Whitley council. The regrading exercise was worked out through negotiations between the management side and the staff side and includes all the trade unions of the appropriate Whitley council. The money was set by the review body, that was accepted by the Government and we provided the cash to fund it. In due course I have no doubt that I will have talks on relevant matters with union leaders, but I will not re-open the Whitley council negotiations with people who are trying to cause strikes at the expense of patients.
§ Mr. Favell
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that in future, questions of pay should be dealt with on a local basis? To resolve local difficulties such as the shortage of intensive care nurses in Birmingham by imposing a national solution is clearly incorrect. The private sector will not resolve Birmingham's problems by imposing a solution suitable to Bristol or Burnley.
§ Mr. Clarke
I have strong sympathy with my hon. Friend's views and his point applies to the way in which the pay and terms and conditions of a wide range of staff are settled in the National Health Service, which is too centralised and too monolithic at the moment. We have put proposals to the review body on nurses' pay for a small experimental fund next year which can be used to try to devise methods for more local discretion in settling pay to meet particular improvement needs. I wait to see what response that receives from the trade unions and I wait to hear the recommendations by the review body.
§ Mr. Crowther
Does the Secretary of State appreciate that in the case of Rotherham health authority, any successful appeals, of which there should be a great number because of the many anomalies that have been created, will inevitably result in a reduction in patient services on the present allocation of resources? Does he believe that it is proper to refuse to fund successful appeals knowing that patients will suffer? Is it not better to ensure that both staff and patients are treated fairly?
§ Mr. Clarke
No, we provided full funding for the nurses' award after the grading exercise was completed and we used the health authorities' own figures to arrive at the figure for full and final funding. I have no reason to believe that Rotherham district health authority has made huge numbers of mistakes in applying the grading structure to its particular staff, although it will no doubt find individual mistakes and correct them. I am quite satisfied that the deal can be implemented without any threat to patient care.