HC Deb 10 May 1988 vol 133 cc138-41
8. Mr. Thurnham

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Services what representations he has received from nurses following the pay rise proposals.

Mr. Newton

My right hon. Friend met representatives of the nursing professions at the time of the announcement by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister of the Government's decision on the pay review body's recommendations. They expressed their satisfaction that the Government had decided to implement the recommendations in full and fully fund the award. The result is that nurses now enjoy the highest ever levels of real terms pay.

Mr. Thurnham

Will my right hon. Friend remind nurses how much better off they are under this Government than they were under the Labour Government? Will he also encourage former nurses to return to the profession, in view of the declining number of school leavers?

Mr. Newton

The real terms increase in nurses' pay since 1979 will now be about 44 per cent., which, as with ancillary staff, compares with a real terms reduction under the Labour Administration.

We urge health authorities to encourage former nurses to return to the profession and very much hope that the pay increase will assist that process.

Rev. Martin Smyth

I appreciate the increase in salaries and welcome the fact that it is fully funded, but does the Minister recognise that there has perhaps been an impact on nurses in the hospice movement that has not been considered? Has he received any representations from such sources regarding such an impact? For example, in the Northern Ireland hospice, the outlay each year of £700,000 should be increased by £100,000 if it is to be fair.

Mr. Newton

Yes, I have had at least one direct representation about this matter. I shall consider the point, but I should observe that many hospices are in part funded by health authorities, and it would be appropriate for them to consider the matter in the light of the additional money being made available to them.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Is my right hon. Friend aware that our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State recently made a most successful visit to Macclesfield, where his words of wisdom about what the Government have done for the Health Service went down very well with a discerning audience? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government's commitment is to meeting the nurses' pay review body award in full, and not just the average increase? There is considerable anxiety among administrators and some nurses that it is just the average increase, rather than the full increase, which the Government have rightly agreed to implement, and which is so welcome.

Mr. Newton

We shall shortly make allocations to regional health authorities in respect of the additional funds. They will have to consider how to allocate to the districts. The general proposition, and the basis on which the figures have been calculated, is a full funding of the award. As for the earlier part of my hon. Friend's question, I am sure that any audience of which he is a part is discerning.

Ms. Harman

Will the Minister give us a clear commitment that he will fund the pay award for nurses in voluntary hospices to the same extent as for those in the NHS? Is he aware that charitable hospices believe that they cannot meet the pay increase by rattling collection boxes and that if pay awards are not fully funded services for the terminally ill will be cut and some hospices, especially in northern England, which do not have a wealthy community to back them, will close?

Mr. Newton

I think that, in effect, I have already answered that question. The hon. Lady puts it in an absurd form. If the Government funded voluntary hospices as they fund health authorities, those hospices would cease to be voluntary, with all that goes with it. Many health authorities, through contractual arrangements or in other ways, assist hospices, and I would expect them to take account of the pay award.

Mr. Watts

Will my right hon. Friend keep an open mind about the possible need to extend regional premiums outside the London area? There is great fear in the East Berkshire authority that, in view of our proximity to London, our existing problems with recruiting nurses will be exacerbated by the premium that is payable just over border.

Mr. Newton

My hon. Friend will know that some thoughts on this subject were put to the review body, but it felt that further consideration was needed on the basis of experience. However, we shall bear that point in mind.

9. Mr. Wareing

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will make a statement on recruitment levels at schools of nursing.

Mrs. Currie

I understand that in the year 1986–87, 22,825 people entered basic nurse training. At 31 March 1987 there were more than 61,000 learners undertaking basic nurse training in England.

Mr. Wareing

Why do the Government not treat nurse education with the seriousness that it deserves? Why has there been an 18 per cent. cut in expenditure on nurse education by the Government? Is it not a disgrace and a shame that hospitals such as St. Thomas's in London will have no further student recruits this July, which means that they will have to wait until October before they can get more nurses? That will lead to more ward closures or, at the very least, to more bed closures. Is that not a disgrace? Is it not time that the Government pulled their finger out and monitored vacancies to ensure that they are filled?

Mrs. Currie

The hon. Gentleman might just remember that part of the answer to the first part of his question was given by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Health in the debate on 19 January, when he said that one of the reasons why basic nurse training costs a little less now is that fewer people drop out, so there is less wastage. As for the hon. Gentleman's point about St. Thomas's, he is obviously not aware of what is happening in Liverpool, which covers his constituency. The Sefton school of nursing tells me that it is fully booked for nurse training and is having no problems with recruitment. The Liverpool school of nursing says that it expects recruitment to be the same this year as last year and that it is experimenting with changing the educational test for admission so that it does not have to rely wholly on people with 0-levels. There are many good people without educational qualifications who would make excellent nurses, especially in Liverpool.

Mrs. Ann Winterton

Is my hon. Friend aware of how vital it is to open nursing recruitment to groups other than the young? I refer specifically to people who have brought up their families and who then wish to train for and pursue a second career in their early middle years. I am sure my hon. Friend will appreciate the contribution that they could make to the nursing profession.

Mrs. Currie

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I was making a similar point to the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing), as such a policy is already being pursued in Liverpool. I am sure that my hon. Friend will join me in welcoming the increasing number of male recruits.

Mr. Galbraith

Does the Minister agree that there is a problem with drop out, particularly in the first year of training? Does she agree also that it may be partly overcome if those recruited into nursing could be confident that the Government would fund the regrading implemented in the nurses' pay award? Will the Minister give a guarantee that any increased expenditure incurred by health boards due to regrading will be fully funded by the Government?

Mrs. Currie

We expect this year's total pay bill for nursing to run to more than £5,000 million for the whole of the United Kingdom, and we have a record number of nurses. Our job is to ensure that we recruit, train and retain all the staff that are needed.