HL Deb 17 July 1981 vol 422 cc1485-7
Lord Molloy

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will arrange to see the general secretary and other national officers of the Confederation of Health Service Employees in a joint endeavour to raise all nursing levels in the National Health Service.

Lord Cullen of Ashbourne

My Lords, Ministers are always prepared to consider sympathetically requests which they receive for meetings with representative organisations. In 1980 my honourable friend the Minister for Health issued invitations to a wide range of organisations to discuss with him matters of concern to the nursing or midwifery professions.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his reply. May I point out to him—

Several noble Lords


Lord Molloy

Is the noble Lord aware that there is a serious situation in the nursing profession, particularly with regard to pupil and student nurses? The facts, which have been corroborated by the General Medical Council, are as follows. There has been a serious decline in recruiting student and pupil nurses. If this decline continues it must mean that there will inevitably be a shortage of nurses in the not too distant future. As has been pointed out by Mr. Albert Spanswick of the Confederation of Health Service Employees, with their vast experience they believe that they can make a contribution towards resolving this problem and therefore may wish to put their services at the disposal of the Minister in order to try to improve the current situation.

Lord Cullen of Ashbourne

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, when he asks a supplementary question not to give a lecture at the same time? I am very keen to answer any questions which the noble Lord might have but he does not have to make a speech when he asks them. The noble Lord is pushing at a door that was opened on 21st August 1980 by my honourable friend who wrote to a number of organisations, including COHSE, asking them to come and see him. That letter was politely replied to and my honourable friend's invitation was accepted but it has not yet been taken up. My honourable friend the Minister for Health will be very pleased to see COHSE at any time.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware (he certainly could not remember the occasion) that 51 years ago I introduced in another place a Bill to give a living wage and an eight-hour day to nurses? Nurses then were regarded as spiritual Florence Nightingales not needing much physical sustenance. Is it not the case that, while their conditions have greatly improved, their status is still inferior to that of many other employees, including shorthand-typists? Will the Minister do his utmost to increase the status of the nursing profession?

Lord Cullen of Ashbourne

My Lords, I am not sure that everybody agrees with the noble Lord, Lord Brockway. I believe that most of us regard nurses as being among the most respected of people. They are frightfully good. They always put their patients first and they have not at any time used their muscle at the expense of patients to get higher wages.

Lord Wallace of Coslany

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that that is no excuse for underpaying nurses, who are indeed underpaid at the present time, and is he aware that the nurses have decided by a majority decision not to become involved in industrial action, which is a tribute to their profession? Secondly, is the noble Lord aware that so far as nursing levels in hospitals are concerned it is time that someone got rid of the absurd system whereby hospital nursing levels are judged by"beddage"—a term that I utterly detest? Thirdly—and I am sorry to put all these questions to the noble Lord—is he aware that there is in fact a very serious shortage of nursing tutors and that it is no good recruiting pupil and student nurses unless teachers are available to teach them?

Lord Cullen of Ashbourne

My Lords, I was interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Coslany, had to say about the shortage of tutors. I am quite prepared to believe that what he said is right; I did not know it, and I will certainly write to the noble Lord. However, his suggestion does not seem to conform with the fact that the number of nurses has been steadily increasing. During the course of the past year the number of nurses has increased from 353,000 to 363,000 in whole term equivalents. The number who completed their course of training was higher than it has ever been before, and hence the increase in recruitment. But I am interested in what the noble Lord has said and I will write to him about the matter.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that his encouraging reply, for which I am most grateful, will be warmly received by the nursing profession, and that perhaps the few minutes we have just spent on considering this subject may have made a great contribution to the future of Great Britain's National Health Service and to the nursing profession in particular? I am most grateful to the noble Lord for his reply.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, following upon what has just been said by my noble friend Lord Molloy, will the noble Lord opposite pass on to his noble friends who are dealing with the British Nationality Bill at this moment a reminder of the immense debt that we owe to Commonwealth citizens who come over here to join the nursing profession?

Lord Cullen of Ashbourne

My Lords, I shall be very happy to do so.

Back to