HC Deb 21 November 2000 vol 357 cc170-1
11. Helen Jones (Warrington, North)

What steps he is taking to provide for the registration of health support workers. [137646]

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. John Denham)

Health support workers, such as health care assistants, operating department practitioners, pharmacy technicians and others, make a crucial contribution to patient care. The NHS plan underlines our commitment to acknowledging and supporting them in developing and expanding their roles, and to publishing proposals for their effective regulation. We have now received a report on the subject by De Montfort university, which we are currently considering.

Helen Jones

I thank my hon. Friend for his reply and acknowledge the progress that has been made, but does he not agree that, when the Care Standards Act 2000 gives the power to introduce regulation for care support workers, it is nonsense that health care assistants doing a similar job in the NHS are not registered? Should not our priority be the protection of patients? I hope that my hon. Friend will act quickly to end the anomalies and give recognition to the important work done by health care assistants.

Mr. Denham

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that issue. We have made a commitment to effective regulation, because we recognise the need to ensure that patients are protected from members of staff who have dubious histories. We are anxious to address the issue, which is why we commissioned the report from De Montfort university. My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the General Social Care Council, which is one of several measures that the Labour Government were forced to introduce after years of neglect by the Conservatives: we have had to regulate social care, introduce regulation for private health care, strengthen the powers of the General Medical Council and introduce annual appraisal for doctors. All those measures should have been introduced years ago, but were neglected by the Conservatives. We have not yet done everything necessary, but we are making progress on a big agenda.

Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth)

Is the Minister aware that many health support workers are also practitioners of complementary medicine? Given his remarks about regulation of other sections of the medical profession, does he not think that the time has come to set up a central register of complementary medical practitioners, so that accurate information is available to members of the general public seeking treatment?

Mr. Denham

I admire the persistence and imagination with which the hon. Gentleman raises the issue of complementary medicine at every turn. He will be aware that the term "complementary medicine" covers an extraordinarily broad range of practice, from therapies that some people regard as esoteric to those that are close to acceptance as mainstream therapies. One of the great difficulties with regulation, especially in respect of the latter group, is the divisive nature of the disagreements between practitioners of many of the therapies. I accept that there are occasions on which protection of the public from quack practices is important, but there must also be some sorting out done within those professions.

Mr. Jim Dobbin (Heywood and Middleton)

Following last week's announcement of additional resources for the NHS, can those professional support workers who are state registered, such as medical laboratory scientists, look forward to receiving levels of pay that are commensurate with their skills, the high qualifications that their jobs require and the role that they play as part of the NHS diagnostic team?

Mr. Denham

As part of the three-year pay deal, we have already taken steps to increase, quite significantly, the pay of at least lower grade pathology laboratory staff. That is an important step in the direction my hon. Friend advocates. He will be aware that we are working with the unions on "Agenda for Change", which sets out a new pay system for the NHS, which holds out to some staff the prospect of moving into the pay review body system, and to staff grades as a whole a proper job evaluation system, better career progression and fairer rewards for all NHS staff.

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