§ 2. Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)
What plans he has to review the level of ancillary staff pay in the national health service; and if he will make a statement. 
§ The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. John Denham)
For the first time, we have offered a guarantee of real-terms pay increases for national health service staff who are outside the pay review bodies, not only for one year, but for a three-year period.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
That longer period is certainly welcome. However, is the Minister aware that, this Monday, I met a support staff worker who is a married man, works a 39-hour week, but has only £139 in take-home pay—which is clearly below benefit levels? Is the Minister also aware that it is not only a matter of pay? Full-time support staff in the NHS are systematically being replaced by part-timers and by temporary workers, with the consequence that support staff consider themselves to be doing ever more work for ever less pay.
Would the Minister be prepared to meet me and my hon. Friend the Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore) to discuss the issue? Will he also try, in the upcoming pay review and in the Government's comprehensive spending review, to find the best way possible of providing better pay and conditions for people who now rightly believe that they are the forgotten people of the national health service?
§ Mr. Denham
Of course I would be prepared to meet the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore) to discuss those matters. It is worth bearing in mind that when we were elected, the starting point for an adult ancillary worker was £3.60 per hour, but from the coming year, because of the offer that we have made, the minimum will be £4. Furthermore, the structure of the deal that is on offer has been weighted towards those who are on the lowest income—with a flat-rate increase for the lowest paid, from which 75,000 workers benefited last year and 85,000 will benefit in the coming year.
Ancillary workers are a key part of the health team. The way in which they do their jobs, and the flexibility with which they approach those jobs, are an important part of delivering modern health services. It is an issue that we want to address in the "Agenda for Change" negotiations that are being conducted with the trade unions.
§ Caroline Flint (Don Valley)
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is a shame that during 18 years of Tory Government the ancillary workers were often ignored? Is it not to be commended that, under the current Government—with their working families tax credit, child care tax credit, reduction in national insurance and the 10p starting rate—we are really able to help to make work pay for those who are at the poorest end of the scale?
§ Mr. Denham
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Last week, I was very pleased to meet a health worker in a 140 south London trust who, as a result of the working families tax credit and the child care tax credit, was fully £80 per week better off than she had been before the introduction of those changes.
§ Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)
May I draw to the Minister's attention the plight of medical laboratory scientific officers? On Friday, my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) and I went to see the MLSOs at Frimley Park hospital. MLSO-1 grade staff are on a maximum of £17,200 annually, which is only about £2,000 per year more than the starting pay for nurses. Does the Minister agree that MLSOs are extremely important people, who do all the blood tests and other tests performed in hospitals, but that the Government have neglected them?
§ Mr. Denham
Has the hon. Gentleman ever wondered how on earth that state was reached? I am very pleased to say that the offer that we have made, which I mentioned earlier, puts on the table quite significant increases for some of the lowest-paid MLSOs. More than 1,000 staff have on offer more than the basic 3 per cent. increase, and, for some staff, the offer proposes an increase as high as 26 per cent. Only yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that, in time, the recruitment campaign that is being directed at nurses would be rolled out to encompass other members of the health team.
The particular needs of that staff group are ones that I hope we shall be able to deal with in the "Agenda for Change" negotiations with the trade unions, which are seeking a new pay system for the national health service.