HC Deb 09 March 1989 vol 148 cc1016-7
2. Mr. Beggs

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether a comparative study has been carried out into the grades awarded to nurses in each health board area in Northern Ireland; and how many nurses have been regraded upwards after appeal and formal interview to date.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Viggers)

Of the 15,400 nurses in Northern Ireland, some 6,000 have requested informal reviews with their nurse managers. The number of reviews that have been completed is 4,280; 682 posts have been upgraded; 2,574 cases are proceeding with formal appeals; and in 26 of those cases, posts have so far been upgraded.

Mr. Beggs

I thank the Minister for the information. Hon. Members will note the very large number of nurses who were totally dissatisfied with their initial grading. I can assure the Minister that many of those nurses are quite disgusted with the appeal procedure that they went through. They felt that the procedure was phoney, and they are still not satisfied. Is the Minister aware that these nurses are now making comparisons not only with grades awarded under other boards but between grades allocated to nurses in hospitals within board areas? School nurses also feel that they have been very badly treated, with the low grades awarded to them. Night sisters reckon that no consideration has been given to the special service and back-up that they provide to staff nurses. Young nurses attempting to obtain higher qualifications for the benefit of their profession in general see no recognition for their extra qualifications. What action will the Minister take to remove this overall dissatisfaction and see that nurses in general are given decent pay awards?

Mr. Viggers

The hon. Gentleman's remarks are totally unjustified. It was always recognised by both staff and management representatives that such a massive exercise of regrading would lead to variations. For this reason, all staff who were dissatisfied were given the opportunity to request informal reviews with their nurse-managers. The fact is that over two-thirds of nurses were satisfied with their regrading, without any appeal at all.

Mr. Kilfedder

Will the Minister, who is very conscientious and caring, look at this matter again? Nurses, who deserve the support of the community, feel extremely dissatisfied. Because of their grave dissatisfaction will the Minister look into their complaint?

Mr. Viggers

Absolutely not. Nurses' pay has increased by more than one third in real terms since 1979, and the average increase this year for nurses was 17.4 per cent. That is a generous settlement which reflects the important work done by the nurses.

Mr. McGrady

In view of the Minister's reply, will he arrange to meet the senior management of the Down unit of management in order to remove the obvious injustices and anomalies which have arisen from the clinical regrading in that area? In view of the new regime, will he also arrange a meeting with that senior management to ensure that the grading of the various ward nurses is adequate? Great injustices and anomalies have arisen as a result of the regrading and the Minister must intervene to resolve the difficulties.

Mr. Viggers

I stand firm behind the general principle of the regrading, but if there is a particular problem I shall pass it on to my hon. Friend the Member for Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham) the Under-Secretary of State, who is responsible for health matters, who is currently on a visit overseas.

Mr. John Marshall

Does my hon. Friend agree that this was the most generous settlement ever for the nurses—much more generous than the settlement at the time of the Ulster Unionist-Labour pact of the 1970s? Does he also agree that, looking further ahead at demographic factors, nurses' pay will have to rise significantly over the next decade if we are to have sufficient nurses?

Mr. Viggers

My hon. Friend is right. The agreement reached on regrading was in parity with a similar one reached in the nursing and midwifery joint negotiating council in Great Britain. But in Northern Ireland a further £32 million was made available in order to allow the regrading.

Ms. Mowlam

Does the Minister agree that the Government's handling of the nurses' pay award has been matched in its incompetency and unpopularity only by their handling of the NHS review? Therefore, will he explain to the House this afternoon why he will not risk a ballot for hospitals that want to opt out? If opting out is about self-government, why is it only he who has a vote?

Mr. Viggers

The hon. Lady's remarks are not justified. The criteria recommended by the nurses' pay review body were agreed nationally and accepted in full by the Government. The nationally agreed criteria were implemented by health and social services boards in Northern Ireland following agreement by staff and management representatives on the nurses and midwives joint staff councils, so there has been a broad consensus in the regrading and there is nothing for the Government to regret.