HL Deb 02 February 1999 vol 596 cc1411-2

Lord Clement-Jones asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they intend to take any action following the employment tribunal case relating to Melksham Hospital in Wiltshire, won by Christine Clunie and Alison Hale.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Hayman)

My Lords, the Government are taking a range of measures to ensure that the NHS offers its staff more family-friendly working arrangements. This case related specifically to the particular circumstances of the NHS trust involved. Individual employers have a responsibility to ensure their decisions are in accordance with employment law.

Lord Clement-Jones

My Lords, does the Minister accept that after yesterday's very disappointing award for senior nursing grades, the retention of experienced nurses remains a key issue for the National Health Service and that the encouragement of family-friendly employment practices will continue to be essential? Does she also accept that it is vital that the pay award is covered in full by the department, failing which other cases such as that of Melksham Hospital will occur, where hospital trusts will attempt to cut their costs and reduce the flexible working arrangements now in place?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, first, the case of Melksham Hospital was a specific one about the introduction of internal rostering to nursing shifts and the effect that that had on women with family responsibilities.

I am rather surprised to hear the noble Lord describe yesterday's settlement as "disappointing". It is the biggest real terms pay increase for 10 years for all nurses and members of professions allied to medicine; and for the first time in five years the award is to be paid nationally, in full, with no staging. Besides the very generous increases for people at the beginning of their nursing careers we are also ensuring that those within the profession are given financial incentives to stay in terms of additional discretionary points. We are also committed to modernising the pay and grading system so that experienced nurses are fairly rewarded for skills and responsibilities.

On the funding, £100 million from the modernisation fund has already been earmarked centrally for staff. Sufficient money is included in the £21 billion settlement for the next three years to meet staffing requirements and to make the additional investment that we want to see.

Lord Winston

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, with regard to nursing recruitment, a great deal of evidence shows that it is not merely salary that counts in terms of the attractiveness of the nursing profession?

Baroness Hayman

Yes, my Lords, I agree with that. That is why in my initial response I said that we were taking a range of measures to ensure that we invest in staff development, that we give people who have left the service the opportunity to retrain and return, and that we provide flexible conditions—conditions that recognise family responsibilities—so that many more of those thousands of nurses currently not employed by the NHS will be attracted to return to medicine.

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