§ Mr. Cohen
To ask the Secretary of State for Health what advice and encouragement he has given to the National Health Service as an employer to provide more flexible working arrangements and child care facilities for National Health Service staff with children; and if any new advice is to be issued with regard to the reduced number of young people available for midwifery and nursing in the 1990s.
§ Mrs. Virginia Bottomley
We fully recognise that staff with domestic responsibilities have a major contribution to make to the staffing of the National Health Service, especially in view of forecast reductions in the numbers of suitably qualified school leavers available for employment in the 1990s. This year we have commended to health authorities the NHS training authority's resource package on implementing an equal opportunities strategy and the report of the national steering group on equal opportunities for women in the NHS which include advice on the organisation of work-break schemes, flexible working arrangements and child care facilities. The NHS training authority is now looking at the training implications of "return and retain" schemes for staff wishing to take career breaks.
In March this year, the Department wrote to all health authorities commending to them a joint collaborative scheme agreed with the Midland bank for the sharing of workplace nursing facilities between NHS and bank staff. The first nursery under the joint scheme is due to open early in the new year at the royal Berkshire hospital. I understand that similar plans at the royal Infirmary in Derby are well advanced, while a number of others in different parts of the country are under discussion. Some health authorities are entering into sharing arrangements with other local employers.
While decisions about the implementation of work-break schemes, including flexible working and the provision of child care facilities must remain a matter for the individual employing authorities, we will continue to emphasise that there must be improvements in working practices and recruitment and retention policies so that authorities may be in a sound position to attract and retain the services of all staff who wish to combine employment in the NHS with domestic responsibilities.