HC Deb 02 February 1999 vol 324 cc719-21
10. Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire)

If he will make a statement on how he intends to meet his target for nurse recruitment. [67168]

The Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Frank Dobson)

Our target is to have enough nurses and midwives to provide the treatment and care that patients need. We therefore need more nurses, and we need them now. That is why we have agreed the biggest real-terms pay rise for nurses for 10 years, and why we are paying it in full.

That is not all. We are also making nursing more attractive by providing more flexible shift patterns. We want to make things better for more experienced nurses by replacing the rigid grading system with arrangements that will help them to develop their careers and reward their additional responsibilities.

Mr. Gray

I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. He will know, however, that only 15,000 of the 300,000 nurses in the national health service will welcome yesterday's announcement. In that context, is the right hon. Gentleman not concerned about the NHS Direct service, about which he will shortly make a statement? The service was piloted in Wiltshire hospitals—so well run by the Wiltshire NHS trust over the past three years, incidentally, and set up by the Conservative Government. Does the right hon. Gentleman not fear that a nurse-based service such as the NHS trust—thought up by the Conservatives—will be hard to man if experienced nurses leave the service?

Mr. Dobson

The hon. Gentleman ought to learn to count, or else brief himself before coming into the Chamber. While between 13,000 and 15,000 nurses will receive a 12 per cent. pay increase, another 70,000 will receive an increase of 8.2 per cent. or more, and the remainder will receive 4.7 per cent.

I shall deal with recruitment through NHS Direct in my statement. At this stage, I shall merely say that I have urged NHS management who are involved in the introduction of NHS Direct to try to recruit, in particular, nurses who have had to leave nursing because of industrial injuries. A back injury, for instance, might make it impossible for a nurse to perform the normal nursing task, but that nurse might still be able to deal with telephone callers. Nurses would thus be able to use their skills for the benefit of patients and their own great satisfaction.

Laura Moffatt (Crawley)

Can my right hon. Friend reassure us that the superb nurses' award—about which many of my colleagues will be thrilled—will affect neither recruitment nor the modernisation of our health service? Those who work in the health service are our best-ever asset, and we must ensure that we modernise their pay. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the money that has been set aside for modernisation will not be affected by the award?

Mr. Dobson

I can confirm precisely that to my hon. Friend, who is one of two former nurses in the House. We are financing the nurses' pay increase with money that we put into the NHS budget for next year. We made the decisions in July last year, and, not unreasonably, we anticipated that the review bodies would make a recommendation well in excess of the rate of inflation, which they have. We therefore set aside, within the modernisation fund, certain sums to help to pay the increase if it reached the level that it has reached. That is a proper use of money to modernise the health service. I think that many people, especially nurses, detest the suggestion that there is a conflict between paying nurses a decent wage and looking after patients. After all, it is the nurses who do the looking after.

Dr. Peter Brand (Isle of Wight)

I am sure that the Secretary of State will agree that nurse recruitment needs good schools of nursing. Will he use his good offices to sort out the unseemly dispute between the universities of Portsmouth and Southampton following the transfer of the contract for nurse training? A number of nurse tutors have been left in limbo, because those two public bodies will not agree on which is responsible for redundancy payments.

Mr. Dobson

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I want to improve the arrangements for nurse training, not overthrow them because there have been some good developments. I want to change them, so that there is considerably greater national health service influence over who goes into nurse training and what sort of training there is. The aim is to redevelop the links between the NHS and nurses in training. As the NHS has had so little to do with nurse training in recent years, many of those in management have lost interest in nurse training and not given it enough attention.