HL Deb 17 February 1998 vol 586 cc139-42

2.45 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether in the light of the review of nurses' pay a generous and realistic provision will be made.

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Baroness Jay of Paddington)

My Lords, the Prime Minister announced on 29th January that the Government had accepted in full the pay increases recommended by the Review Body for Nursing Staff. Pay scales for nursing staff will rise by 2 per cent. from 1st April and by 3.8 per cent. from 1st December. Unlike recent years, nurses will receive a proper national pay award rather than facing the lottery of local pay bargaining. This is the highest pay award to nurses in the past six years.

In addition, the Government accept in principle the review body's recommendation on discretionary points for some senior nurses and we shall be taking this forward in the context of wider discussions about the NHS pay system.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. Are the Government aware that the Royal College of Nursing takes the view that this staged award of 2.6 per cent. is wholly inadequate to deal with the nursing shortage? Are the Government also aware that in this crisis situation the Royal College of Nursing seeks the setting up of a strong independent review body for pay and the establishment of an improved career structure for all nurses? What will the Government do about it?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I of course accept that the Royal College of Nursing has made the points described about the pay award. But, as the noble Lord said, it is rightly concerned about the career structure and opportunities for the professions. We are addressing that. An extra 1,300 new training places are being made available for nurse education and training this year. We have put aside £2.15 million to promote publicity about the new training places. In the context of the NHS White Paper, we are also allowing for a more positive role for nurses in the higher reaches of NHS management. Together with the Royal College of Nursing and other professional bodies, we are working on a widespread strategy to ensure that the serious matter of nursing staff shortages is addressed.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the Minister aware that her reply will be welcomed by many voluntary organisations which assist British nurses—in particular, our Royal British Legion?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I am grateful, as always, to my noble friend for drawing attention to the very good work of voluntary organisations such as the Royal British Legion. They are essential to continuing and developing the strategy that I described.

Baroness Robson of Kiddington

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the reputation of the National Health Service rests largely on the dedication and devotion of the nurses who have served us for the past 50 years, and that the future of the NHS depends enormously on their continued dedication? Is the noble Baroness therefore concerned that the pay award will be implemented in two stages so that the figure is not 3.7 per cent. over a year? In addition, the shortage of applications to the nursing schools, and the fact that 25 per cent. of older nurses will retire, will inevitably cause a great strain on the National Health Service.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I am second to none in commending the extraordinary role that nurses have played during the 50 years of the NHS. This Government have accorded particular emphasis to the whole of the staff of the NHS and their general dedication and skill. That is why, for the first time, we are developing a human resources strategy for the 1 million people who work for the NHS, all of whose contributions are valued and understood.

We are aware of the shortages that exist. That is why we are paying special attention in the short term to recruitment and, even more importantly, to retention. As the noble Baroness may have seen in a report today, a recent survey into the reasons for nurses not returning to the profession once they have left to marry or take alternative employment, points to the hours that they are expected to work rather than to their pay. It is a matter that we are urgently addressing.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, does the Minister recall that when I was chairman of the body that set up the review body which settled nurses' pay for a long time to come, we equated the salary of a ward sister with that of a station sergeant in the police force? What has become of that equation?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, the review body, on whose independence we rely as when it was originally established, states that there has not been any significant change in the relative position of nurses and their main comparators since 1990. The growth in real average earnings for nurses during that period has been 14 per cent., as compared with 12 per cent. for all employees.

Baroness Cox

My Lords, I declare an interest as vice-president of the Royal College of Nursing. Does the Minister agree that there are serious problems at present in terms of nursing morale and the retention of senior nurses? Will she therefore further agree that it is very important that the new discretionary salary points recommended for senior nurses by the review body should be implemented immediately, and not be delayed as is proposed, if we are to stem the tide of more and more senior nurses leaving the health service?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I precisely agree with the noble Baroness, who speaks with authority about the particular role of senior nurses. As I said in answer to the original Question, we have accepted that point in principle. It is being considered in the broad structure of the NHS pay review strategy which we are developing. Interestingly, as the noble Baroness is probably aware, the Royal College of Nursing, in its own review of the reasons why people left the profession, did not put pay among the top five. Other reasons, such as promotion, a desire to gain broader experience and lack of development opportunities were placed higher—as was the issue of unsocial hours to which I referred in my reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Robson.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford

My Lords, I wonder whether my noble friend will draw to the attention of the House the fact that it was the Labour Government of 1974–79 (in which, incidentally, I was health Minister for Scotland) which substantially reduced the working hours of nurses. I encourage the Minister to go down the path that she hinted at earlier and implement another substantial decrease in nurses' working hours.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, as always, I should hope to follow in the distinguished footsteps of my noble friend. However, in the context of today's employment practices, it may be flexibility of working hours rather than the numbers of hours worked which needs to be examined more closely in relation to nursing.

Earl Russell

My Lords, will the Minister clarify two figures that she gave in her first Answer? In dealing with a phased award, what is the percentage rate of the award averaged over 12 months? When she said that it was the most generous award for the past six years, did that claim relate to the final figure or to the average over 12 months?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I was quoting the final figure: 3.8 per cent. As to the average over 12 months, I am sure that the noble Earl's mental arithmetic is better than mine. I shall have to write to him to establish that.