HC Deb 04 May 1993 vol 224 cc4-6
3. Mrs. Jane Kennedy

To ask the Secretary of State for Health if she will make it her policy to introduce a guarantee of employment for all nurses satisfactorily completing their nurse training in 1993.

The Secretary of State for Health (Mrs. Virginia Bottomley)

Regional health authorities and local employers manage the recruitment of qualified nurses and are already seeking ways to provide each newly qualified nurse and midwife with at least a period of employment.

Mrs. Kennedy

Does the Secretary of State accept that it costs at least £36,000 a year for every student nurse in training for three years, and that it is a monumental waste of resources to have such nurses leave the profession either to find other work or to join the dole queue? Will she accept two simple proposals that might help nurses to find work—the introduction of careers counselling for student nurses and the development of a national database for nursing vacancies?

Mrs. Bottomley

I accept the hon. Lady's comments on how expensive it is to train nurses. We need extremely competent nurses for the health service of today and tomorrow, and that is why we have invested £321 million on Project 2000—£114 million this year. I am pleased to say that five out of six nurses gain employment immediately upon qualifying, and all regions are exploring various ways of taking the matter further. They could well follow the example of Mersey in this area, as in so many others, which has ensured that the number of nurses being trained meets the requirements of the health service. That is a matter for the regions to explore, using the many means at their disposal.

Mr. Dickens

Will my right hon. Friend concede that British nurses are the best trained in the world and that when they are trained they are the hardest working, most dedicated workers that one could ever see? As today's high-tech training of nurses far exceeds that in the days of Florence Nightingale, will my right hon. Friend try to ensure that regional health authorities gauge more carefully their labour requirements for the years ahead so that we do not train these wonderful people only for them to find that they have no jobs at the end?

Mrs. Bottomley

As ever, my hon. Friend has it exactly right. British nurses are among the best in the world. During my recent visit to Russia, for example, I was particularly pleased to see much British nursing expertise being put to good effect. But it is because we believe in nurses that we have treated them so well, increasing their pay by 50 per cent.—unlike the Opposition, who cut it by 3 per cent.—and introducing the new independent pay review body, the new clinical grading system and Project 2000. My hon. Friend has it right. All regions should do as well as Mersey and ensure that they balance their training input with the number of jobs.

Mr. McCartney

Is it not a disgrace that the Secretary of State gave no commitment to the House today to guarantee a job for every student leaving nursing college in the next financial year? In Leeds, there is 70 per cent. unemployment among student nurses leaving college, in Birmingham, there are 200 applicants for every three nursing jobs and 50 per cent. of student nurses cannot find a placement at the end of their training. Yet the Government have wasted £86 million on incompatible computer software for GP fund holders. That is equivalent to 6,880 new nursing jobs. is it not time that the Government got their priorities right and spent money on nurses who have completed their training?

Mrs. Bottomley

Is it not typical of the Labour party that it always tries to find the cloud over the silver lining? Nurses now stay in the health service for an average of 14 years compared with an average of seven years previously. Turnover has fallen to about 10 per cent. and as low as 3 per cent. in some places. That is because nurses know that they have a worthwhile future in the health service and will continue to do so. Of course I regret those few trained nurses for whom there is no immediate employment; that is why regions are working hard to try to find ways to try to prevent that. But nobody should think other than that nurses have an extremely worthwhile career in the health service, as set out in the chief nursing officer's vision for the future only last week.

Mr. Matthew Banks

Does my right hon. Friend agree that nurses in Merseyside and the United Kingdom as a whole have benefited tremendously from initiatives such as Project 2000, improved clinical grading schemes and improved training and education, the likes of which were not seen when Labour was in office?

Mrs. Bottomley

How right my hon. Friend is. Nurses will look back at those days when not only the capital programme of the health service was cut, but nurses' pay was cut in real terms—a disgraceful record. As my hon. Friend so rightly says, we have introduced all the key elements that nurses so wanted. "The Health of the Nation", the patients charter and the health service reforms all rely on committed, well-qualified nurses. I am pleased that that is the case in this country.