HL Deb 09 July 1984 vol 454 cc561-4

2.43 p.m.

Lord Airedale

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, since the report Health or Smoking? states that smoking among nurses is a cause for grave concern, they are satisfied that the working conditions of nurses do not give rise to undue stress.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, the Government are not aware of any undue stress produced by nurses' working conditions.

Lord Airedale

My Lords, I am obliged for that Answer. Is it not astonishing that those who are best placed to see the suffering caused by smoking-related diseases should themselves find it so hard to give up the habit?

Lord Glenarthur

Yes, my Lords, but is is not just a question of giving it up. There are those who take it up as well, and the reasons for that are fairly complex. There have been a number of reports on the matter, and I think there is general agreement. If I may quote from the introduction to a report in 1982 called Smoking Amongst Nurses in Newcastle, the first paragraph stresses: all are agreed that the considerations most likely to be effective in dissuasion are, first, the health risks; secondly, the cost; thirdly, the unpleasantness and social unacceptability of the habit". It is a question of people being at a formative age when thay take up nursing and of being among others who smoke. That is probably the cause, rather more than stress, to which the Question refers.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the noble Lord the Minister not aware that the men and women who work in this great profession are under constant threat of emotional assault? They are not repairing motor cars, they are not carpenters or joiners: they are dealing with human beings, and this causes an additional amount of stress. There has been evidence that relief from this stress and emotional concern is to be found in smoking. Would the noble Lord not agree that it behoves all of us to make whatever contribution we can to help the nurses of Britain's National Health Service and to see that any strain that can be removed in their working lives is in fact removed and not allowed to return?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I note the noble Lord's point, but the fact is that they are not under the stress from which the noble Lord describes them as suffering. More nurses have been employed over the years, as the noble Lord knows. I am well aware that there are certain parts of the nursing service which are stressful, such as working with patients in psychiatry, with patients in intensive care, and so on; but there is not the evidence to support the fact that they are taking up smoking because of stress, particularly in these fields.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, is it not a happy coincidence for non-smokers that the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, has asked this Question on the day when the London Underground has gone smokeless? In relation particularly to the nurses, is the noble Lord the Minister aware that the Royal College of Nursing and other organisations representing nurses are very worried about this problem? Is there more that he thinks his right honourable friend can do to ensure that nurses in training have an opportunity to have brought to their attention the grave dangers of smoking and the importance of their setting a lead for others?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, so far as the Underground is concerned, I am delighted; but that is a personal point of view. So far as discouraging smoking among nurses is concerned, the Health Education Council, which the Government fund, have taken a number of steps to discourage smoking among nurses and to develop their role in educating patients about the dangers of smoking, which I think was a point to which the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, referred. For example, last year they issued booklet packs to hospital and community nurses which gave facts about smoking and advice on how best to communicate advice and information. The HEC have also organised a series of seminars aimed at increasing the knowledge of nurses about smoking.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether he would agree with me that it might be a good idea if surgeons were to invite nurses who are heavy smokers to come and watch operations for lung cancer on those people who have smoked and are dying from lung cancer?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I have a feeling that, anyway, there are probably many nurses who take part in these operations who are smokers. But anything that can be done to reduce smoking for the benefit both of people who smoke and for the health service is to be welcomed.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, would the noble Lord not agree that nurses' accommodation is an important part of their working conditions? Would he undertake to do all that he can to see that no nurses' accommodation is unnecessarily closed, thus thrusting them on to the open property market at a higher price?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, lots of factors give rise to stress. I am sure that, in the end, working conditions are more important than their accommodation, where people relax and probably smoke at will anyway; but I think the noble Lord's question is really a different one.

Lady Saltoun

My Lords, would the noble Lord not agree that if one is bullied and badgered not to do something, it just makes one want to do it all the more?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, bullying and badgering is one thing; encouragement is another.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

My Lords, is it not as well to remember, as the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, has reminded us, that there are male as well as female nurses? Is it not the case that in the report Health or Smoking? the Royal College seems to assume that all nurses are female, since it treats the question under the heading "Women and Smoking"? Is there evidence of any difference in the incidence of smoking as between male and female nurses? Also, in view of the fact that doctors who are addicted to tobacco have taken to snuff, according to a leading article in the BMJ itself in November last, would not nurses be well advised to follow the doctors, who are as much subject to stress as they are?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I am afraid I do not have a breakdown of the respective figures as between male and female nurses. So far as snuff is concerned, I know the noble Lord's particular views on snuff, and there are others who support them. I am sure that the nurses will note his view.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, as regards going in for alternatives, would the noble Lord agree that a drop of Scotch is much more relaxing than the other two?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I would, but I am not sure that everybody would agree with me.