§ 1. Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones
To ask the Secretary of State for Health when he last met representatives of the Royal College of Nursing to discuss nurses' pay.
§ The Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Kenneth Clarke)
I last met representatives of the Royal College of Nursing formally on 1 February when I informed them of the Government's decision on the 1990 review body reports.
§ Mr. Jones
Does the Secretary of State agree that there is a lack of confidence in the clinical grading appeals procedure and that matters will get worse, because there are fewer members of the slimline health authorities to hear and determine appeals? If NHS trusts are set up, there is even the prospect that the appeals procedure and clinical grading will disappear altogether in NHS hospitals. What does the Secretary of State propose to do, first, to speed up the appeals procedure and, secondly, to restore confidence in the system and thus morale in the profession?
§ Mr. Clarke
The situation on grading appeals is something of a disgrace and it is entirely the fault of the nursing trade unions. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes, it is. When we first drew up the new grading arrangements, I put it to the nurses' trade union leaders that the existing appeals system would not work when dealing with all the appeals, because each individual case is dealt with as though it were a magistrates court hearing—one by one. I invited them to take part with me in discussions about streamlining the appeals procedure, but they refused. They preferred the existing Whitley council procedures. I hope that they will reflect upon that and that they will come back and have some sensible discussions about a proper appeals procedure. I have always suspected that some of 1038 the trade unions, at least, prefer the nurses to be left with a sense of grievance which they can play upon rather than tackle the problem of getting the gradings right.
§ Mr. John Greenway
May I advise my right hon. and learned Friend that last Saturday my wife went back to Hammersmith hospital for the 25th anniversary reunion of the nurses who, with her, went to that hospital in 1965? During that visit they were amazed to discover that there were twice as many nurses on the wards and that many patients were sent home for the weekend due to the improvement in clinical techniques and methods. Does not that demonstrate not only that there are more nurses but that when the Government's reforms are in place—[HON. MEMBERS: "Get on with it!"]—and these appeals are out of the way there will be every opportunity for the nursing profession to establish itself much more, which will enable nurses to feel that they have a much greater relationship with the hospital where they work?
§ Mr. Clarke
My hon. Friend's wife may have had the misfortune to work in the national health service during the years when a Labour Government allowed nurses' pay to fall 21 per cent. behind inflation. It is now 40 per cent. ahead of inflation since we came to office. The profesesion is becoming well paid and much better staffed. The grading system gives nurses a much better career structure, as all nurses would recognise. It is high time that we got rid of the anomalous appeals system so as to enable the grading structure to work. Nursing is now a better-staffed and better-paid profession, with a better career structure than ever before. Nurses will get a great deal out of our improved and reformed national health service.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I request hon. Members to ask brief supplementary questions. Then we shall get further down the Order Paper.