HC Deb 01 November 1988 vol 139 cc812-4
8. Mr. Haynes

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what is his latest estimate of the cost of funding the nurses pay settlement; and what plans he has to fund it in full.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

I announced on 13 October additional financial allocations to English regional health authorities to meet in full, the best estimates of the final costs of the nurses' pay settlement, including the clinical regrading exercise. An additional £98 million has been made available, bringing the total cost for England to £731 million.

Mr. Haynes

Is the Secretary of State aware that he has let the nurses down? He has broken a promise to the nurses. The Secretary of State represents a constituency just down the road from mine. I have had nurses from all their organisations coming to have a go at me at my surgery on a Saturday morning when they should have been having a go at him. There is no doubt that, because of what he has said at the Dispatch Box today, he is not holding surgeries to have those nurses come to see him. I want to know whether the Secretary of State will live up to his promise and give the nurses the money to which they are entitled.

Mr. Clarke

I, too, hold my surgeries on Saturday mornings and my constituency is so close to that of the hon. Gentleman that I can almost hear him addressing his constituents. The announcement that we have made honours in full every commitment that we gave to the nursing profession. It represents on average a 17.9 per cent. increase across the country and it is the best deal that the nurses have ever had in the NHS.

Mr. John Marshall

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that, following the nurses' pay increase, their salaries will be 45 per cent. higher in real terms than they were in 1979?

Mr. Clarke

That is absolutely correct. It contrasts with a drop of 20 per cent. in real terms that took place during the period of office of the Labour Government.

Ms. Harman

Will the Minister agree to meet myself, the nurse managers for nurses in hospices and Help The Hospices, which is the umbrella organisation for hospices, to discuss our concern about the effect of the pay award on nurses in hospices? What financial arrangements will he make for pay awards for nurses working in hospices that currently receive no grant from their district authority, such as St. Oswald's in Newcastle, St. Clare's in South Shields, and the Hartlepool hospice?

Mr. Clarke

I can assure the hon. Member that a Minister from my Department will meet her deputation. Obviously it will be left for the most convenient arrangements to be made when she contacts my office. We remembered the hospices in the settlement that we made, although their case was not pressed upon us by anyone in the trade union movement; perhaps the hon. Lady may have done so. We have made a provision of extra money to cover regrading and pay increase costs in those hospices that currently have a relationship with health authorities. We are still discussing how best to distribute it, and we shall listen with interest to whatever the hon. Lady has to say on behalf of individual hospices throughout the country.

Mr. Harry Greenway

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm what was said by his predecessor, that under the award, nurses will receive equal pay for equal work and responsibility, but that it will be made clear that some nurses have more responsibility than others in the work that they have to do, and that that is a crucial factor in deciding whether they are graded G or F?

Mr. Clarke

My hon. Friend is right, and seeking to ensure that such is done on the right basis throughout the country has been a complicated process. I think that that exercise has been extremely successful. In some cases a new G-grade post will have to be created. My hon. Friend is right to say that there will have to be some competition, so that the health authority may choose the best candidate for the extra skill and responsibility involved. We have ensured that once that skill and responsibility is being carried, it will be properly paid for under the new arrangement.

9. Mr. Win Griffiths

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what representations he has received on the implication of the nurses pay award.

17. Mrs. Mahon

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what representations he has received from trade unions and professional bodies with members in the nursing profession about the recent pay award.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

The Government's decision to provide substantial additional funding to meet in full the estimated final costs of the nurses' pay settlement has been welcomed by health authority chairmen and managers and by responsible representatives of the trade unions and professional bodies.

Mr. Win Griffiths

Does the Secretary of State agree that his cavalier refusal to meet the nurses' organisations at an earlier point in the disagreement arising out of the current pay dispute has resulted in poor morale in the Health Service? Although the Minister has so far committed himself to paying the estimated cost of the award, it could yet be that the award will be still higher than the level of money currently being discussed. In those circumstances, will the Secretary of State guarantee that further money will be made available?

Mr. Clarke

The morale of all Health Service staff would be raised if the Government, management and trade unions all took part in responsible discussions on these matters. At certain stages in the negotiations over the detail of the grades and structure, I believe that people were seeking meetings with me more for the benefit of securing publicity for themselves than for the purpose of furthering the nurses' pay settlement.

The money that we have found—which is a very substantial sum of almost £1 billion for the United Kingdom as a whole—is in full and final settlement of the cost of implementing the new arrangements. It is based on the regional health authorities' own figures. Clearly, we must now put that behind us and concentrate on what is now in hand, which is the giving of evidence before the nurses' review body for next year's settlement.

Mrs. Mahon

If the Minister believes that he has treated the nurses very generously, can he explain to the House why so many nurses and midwives are angry and have seen through his outrageous regrading swindle?

Mr. Clarke

Certainly one of the trade unions involved is having remarkably little success in its continued attempts to find nurses with a sense of grievance about the settlement. I regret the fact that some trade union leaders continue trying to find opportunities for dispute. I particularly deplore the fact that they are trying to organise industrial action in one or two places up and down the country. I am sure that they will not succeed, and I am sure also that the public recognise that the great bulk of the nursing profession is very satisfied with such a very generous award.

Mr. Ralph Howell

In 1985 my right hon. and learned Friend's Department was unable to tell the Public Accounts Committee whether we were employing too many or too few nurses. Can he tell us now whether there are too many or too few?

Mr. Clarke

We certainly have much better information than we had a few years ago about the number of staff whom we employ, and we are improving the quality of nurse management. Now that we have given them a new career structure, it is extremely important that those responsible for the management of the skilled professional staff make the best possible use of their trained manpower. We are looking for the best deployment of nurses in all grades to ensure the maximum quality of service for patients.

Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones

I am sure that the Secretary of State will have read in yesterday's Western Mail that nurses in Wales are not to be paid their new rates or be regraded at the same time as their colleagues in England, because the Treasury has intervened. Will he now consult urgently with the Secretary of State for Wales so that they can go back to the Treasury and say that nurses in Wales are entitled to the same pay rates as their counterparts at the same time?

Mr. Clarke

I regret to say that I have not read the Western Mail, and this is plainly a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales. However, the regrading exercise was carried out on exactly the same basis in Wales as it was in England, and should produce the same satisfactory conclusion for nurses and midwives in both countries.

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