HC Deb 22 June 1990 vol 174 cc751-2W
Mr. Key

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what steps national health service management has taken to improve staffing levels in national health service laboratories and the pay and conditions of service of the staff who work in them.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

Since 1979 the number of qualified medical laboratory and scientific officers (MLSOs) in post has increased by 38 per cent. NHS management also undertook an extensive pay review and grade restructuring for this group of staff in 1988–89 to make a career in NHS laboratories attractive and to reward increased levels of skills and responsibilities. As a result of this review, the salary of the basic grade of qualified MLSOs, which includes 44 per cent. of all qualified MLSOs, increased by 11 per cent. in that year. Many MLSOs received substantially greater increases on assignment to the new grade structure. Current pay scales for qualified staff range from £7,897 to £20,244. These are currently under review in the Whitley council. In addition, about 25 per cent. of MLSOs now receive up to £2,527 extra through the discretionary local pay supplements for special skills or responsibilities. Many MLSOs also earn allowances relating to "out of hours" duties averaging 15 per cent. of their basic pay.

Local NHS management has not reported any significant difficulties in recruiting and retaining laboratory staff except in some places mainly in the south-east. Essential patient services are not affected.

In order to overcome local staffing difficulties NHS management, through the Whitley council management side has proposed a system of local pay supplements of up to 30 per cent., which could mean increases of up to £3,647 for basic grade MLSOs, greater flexibility in the way hours are worked and extra duty paid for and further local discretion on starting pay. These have all so far been rejected by the trade unions.

NHS management has taken positive steps in recent years to improve the pay and conditions of service of MLSOs and to resolve local recruitment and retention problems. Partial, inadequate and misleading surveys of the type recently published by the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman) serve only to undermine NHS management and the laboratory service.