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19 May 1999 : Column 1127

NHS Personnel

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): I should advise the House that the Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

7.14 pm

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald): I beg to move,

I suspect that many doctors and many nurses may have been deceived into voting for the present Government at the last election. They were promised more recruitment, shorter hours, better pay, less pressure and shorter waiting lists. They have been cruelly disappointed because the reality is that, today, morale among all who work in our health service is at an all-time low. Labour has milked dry the efforts of our doctors and nurses.

We all remember Labour's extravagant promises before the elections--empty pledges, unconcerned with where the new doctors and new nurses would come from, and with how to solve the problems of recruitment and retention. The hard-working majority in our health service expected those promises to be delivered. Their hopes were raised. They thought then, even if they know better now, that they could trust Labour to deliver. They did not believe that, once the Government had won their own not so hard-working majority, the magic wand would disappear and the only thing that would remain would be the glib quest for easy solutions and tomorrow's headlines.

It is hard to blame those people for being deceived. Imagine being a young nurse three or four years ago and hearing an Opposition spokesman criticising the Government over nurse's pay, saying:

That Opposition spokesman was the right hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Milburn). Six months after the election, the right hon. Gentleman, by then the Minister of State, Department of Health was arguing:

    "Any settlement for nurses . . . at below the level of current inflation would not imply a real pay cut."

If that is not Labour hypocrisy, if it is not all hype and no delivery, what is? How disillusioning for our nurses: they were promised so much and, within so little time, badly let down.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): Would my right hon. Friend be surprised to learn that it is not just nurses who feel betrayed by the Labour party and the Labour Government? Has she read the report in Hospital Doctor magazine, which says:

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    Is she surprised to learn that, in Staffordshire and the west midlands, people are becoming very disturbed by the huge influx of Egyptian and other consultants who do not speak adequate English, replacing English doctors who have left the NHS?

Miss Widdecombe: I am not surprised, but extremely saddened. That is symptomatic of a situation that has been created by a Government who, in opposition, promised anything to anyone whenever they thought that it might curry cheap favour.

I wonder, for example, what progress the Secretary of State for Health is making on Labour's pledge to set up pilot schemes under which savings from reduced staff turnover would be used to pay extra money to nurses who decide to stay longer in their jobs. For that matter, I wonder whether he even remembers it. I will not altogether blame him if he does not because he has a memory problem.

The Secretary of State did not remember the Prime Minister's pledge to set up a task force on trolleys, so I admit that the chances of his recalling the random utterances of the right hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) are probably non-existent. However, I do not think that the nurses have forgotten. They have not forgotten how Labour boasted of its plans to recruit thousands more nurses, although they probably did not expect the interviews to take place in Manila. I am certain that they have not forgotten the Secretary of State's wild boasts about this year's pay award.

To be charitable, I suppose the Secretary of State finally believed that he had something to boast about. There had been all those promises of more pay for nurses before the election, all those Labour spokesmen calling the phasing of pay awards a "deception" and a "betrayal", only to find that, once in government, reality has a nasty habit of biting. It bites smug Labour spokesmen where it hurts.

We all remember that one of the Government's first actions was to stage Labour's first pay award to nurses. The Secretary of State must finally have thought that things were turning out all right. Unfortunately, he allowed his sanctimony to get in the way of the facts.

We welcomed the pay settlement in February, but we did so under the impression that it was going into nurses' pockets. I thought that that was the idea. However, we are now learning that trusts up and down the country are failing to give nurses their money. What is more, they are telling staff that they "have not received authorisation" to pass on the cash.

Mr. Fabricant: The Secretary of State is laughing.

Miss Widdecombe: Laughter is often a hysterical defence when things are going wrong.

Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire): Is my right hon. Friend aware that, at Addenbrooke's hospital in my constituency--where some 1,300 qualified nurses are employed--the pay award not only was not paid in April but, by reason of the Government's lateness in distributing the circular, will not be paid in May? It will not be paid, at best, until the end of June.

Miss Widdecombe: That is a betrayal. What on earth is going on? Let us leave aside the fact that the Secretary

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of State had to raid his modernisation fund to foot the bill for the pay settlement, and then asked the trusts to stump up the rest. Let us leave aside the fact that only one in 15 nurses will receive the higher level of pay settlement. I suppose that I could be persuaded to leave aside the fact, verified by the House of Commons Library, that even after the remaining 14 out of 15 nurses have got their hands on some money--not in April or May, possibly in June--they will still be £53 worse off under this Government than at the time of the last election.

It is a disgrace that the Secretary of State has allowed a pay award--for which he attempted to take so much personal credit, of which he boasted through every newspaper and media outlet that he could find and about which he swaggered in this House when he announced it--to disappear into some form of nether region for which no one seems to have any responsibility.

It is no good, as the Secretary of State has done yet again, just to palm the blame off on to the trusts and to threaten sackings right, left and centre--like he did over waiting lists and the winter crisis, and like he still does over rationing, which he denies exists.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the Guild trust, Preston, today, three non-executive directors were dismissed from their posts? Their crime was to whistleblow on the management of their own trust, which led to the suspension of the chief executive and the resignation of the chairman. Their reward was to be told either to resign or that they would be sacked. Today, they were sacked. What message does that send to non-executive directors up and down the country who may find out about mismanagement in their trusts? Will they be rewarded by the Secretary of State for Health with dismissal?

Miss Widdecombe: It is ironic--perhaps it is not ironic; perhaps it is totally to be expected--that that is the action of a Secretary of State who, after the scandal at Bristol, said that whistleblowers would always be protected. He does not protect whistleblowers--he protects his own cronies and himself.

I was talking about how the Secretary of State is always tempted, and always gives in to the temptation, to palm the blame off on to trusts, as he has done over the massive waiting list to get on to the waiting list--a list that has doubled to almost 500,000 since the Government came to power. He seems to treat our health service as if those in it were some sort of underfootmen. He has all the power and shouts the odds, but they have all the responsibility and are told to get out if they complain.

Why does not the Secretary of State accept some responsibility for the situation that he has helped to create? Will he guarantee right now that any nurses who have not received their April pay settlement in full, as he promised they would, will be traced right away and fully compensated? While he is about that, perhaps he would like to apologise. I have to say that, with this Health Secretary, we are more likely to see him escaping over the top of the millennium dome than admitting that he has made a mistake. However, I hope that he is in an apologetic mood, because that is by no means the end of the problems that he has caused to morale in our health service.

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The recommendation of the independent pay review body was that a pool of some £50 million should be found as a means of compensating consultants for theirwork load. After the pay review body reported, the Government--who boasted that they were implementing the recommendations of the pay review body--did not implement that recommendation. In a panic when the motion was tabled, I gather that the Secretary of State had a meeting, and that he is trying to stave them off with vague promises--but, as yet, still no settlement.

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