HL Deb 14 May 1981 vol 420 cc625-6

3.26 p.m.

Lord Auckland

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 what is the volume of expenditure upon renovation of nurses' homes in NHS hospitals and building of new nurses' homes in these hospitals in the United Kingdom during the years 1975–80, and what is the expected expenditure for the years 1981–85.

Lord Cullen of Ashbourne

My Lords, I regret that information in the precise form requested is not available centrally. Nor is it possible to provide estimates of future expenditure. The only indication that I can give is that about £12.7 million was spent by English health authorities in 1979–80 on capital schemes costing £15,000 or more for providing or improving staff residences.

Lord Auckland

My Lords, I should like first to thank my noble friend for his courtesy in personally seeing me regarding this Question. May I ask him whether he is aware that his Answer is not very satisfactory? Is he also aware that many of our nurses, who work literally 24 hours a day in many cases, come from abroad and live many miles away from their hospitals? Would he not agree that good service to patients can be improved considerably by providing decent accommodation at reasonable rental for nurses? Is he further aware that in many cases the amount of rental is ludicrously disproportionate to the quality of the accommodation? Will he ask his right honourable friend, as soon as financial commitments allow, to look into this matter very urgently?

Lord Cullen of Ashbourne

My Lords, it is the responsibility of the health authorities in the area to see to these matters. It will depend on how much they can afford to spend. Naturally, the priority goes to the patient rather than to the nurse. One appreciates the importance of nurses having as good accommodation as possible, but I think that your Lordships will agree that the patient comes first.

Baroness Jeger

My Lords, would the Minister not agree that there is a movement away from institutional living, especially as many more of our nurses, both men and women, are married and want to lead a non-institutional life? Is not the answer to this question of accommodation to be found in providing better salaries so that these men and women can choose where they live, like any other workers? I am not referring to accommodation for student nurses, which is a special problem. Alternatively, might there be some subsidy for their accommodation rather than putting them all into institutions such as one where I stayed with a home sister who made life not very jolly?

Lord Cullen of Ashbourne

My Lords, as I am sure the noble Baroness knows, many of these nurses live out rather than in hospitals or nursing homes. So far as payment is concerned, a completely new system is now operating. It started on 1st April this year. Over a period of four years the charges for accomomodation are going to be gradually increased to the kind of levels which they would have to pay outside. As these increases come on there will be abatement of the charges to the nurses, depending on the state of the accommodation, and this will be agreed by the Whitley Council with the local authorities.

Lord Wallace of Coslany

My Lords, is the Minister aware that I am somewhat amazed to find that the department do not have detailed information available on this very vital matter? Furthermore, the noble Lord said that the patient must come first. Is it not the position that the patient comes first if adequate nursing care is available and that many consultants and patients depend on the nurses? Is it not a fact that unless we provide adequate accommodation for them not only to carry out their duties but, in the case of students, to study, we shall be falling down on the job? This is a very vital matter and I hope that the department will look further into it.

Lord Cullen of Ashbourne

My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Lord that it is extremely important; but so far as the figures are concerned it is actually only since 1979–80 that the figure I gave to the House has been available, because those figures have never been available in the past.