Orders of the Day — Wakefield General Hospital (Nurses' Accommodation)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 3rd March 1953.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith.]

12.6 a.m.

Photo of Mr Albert Roberts Mr Albert Roberts , Normanton

I did not wish to raise this matter tonight, but I fear that circumstances have more or less compelled me to do so. This is not a political issue but a human question, which is both serious and deserving. It concerns a profession of which we are all proud and think a great deal. I refer to nursing and, in particular, to the nurses' accommodation at the General Hospital, Wakefield.

In the first place, my attention was drawn to the serious position which has existed at this hospital for a long time, I have, of course, one advantage over the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health in that I have seen these conditions to which I am referring. I have examined them most minutely and have been moved by them. Naturally, I felt it a duty and obligation to bring the matter before the Ministry of Health, and, having achieved little, I felt it necessary to call the attention of the House to those circumstances. I do not wish to seek publicity, nor to score any points. On 10th June last, I wrote asking for these deficiencies to be put right. The hon. Lady gave serious consideration to my points in the reply which she sent, stating that she more or less agreed with me but adding that, owing to financial stringency, she thought my chance of success was very remote. But since I was born the times have always been times of financial stringency and anyone in public life soon learns that there is never an abundance of money. But those serving the public must realise that first things come first.

I studied this subject for a long time, and on 27th January of this year, I wrote again to the Ministry of Health and asked if the Minister himself would give consideration to my points. I sent him correspondence, and he replied, but told me that he had to endorse what the Parliamentary Secretary had told me last year; namely, that owing to financial difficulties, he could not lend support to my argument. I say here and now that these matters of hospitals and accommodation are delegated to regional boards; but, the Minister cannot escape some responsibility, and in this instance, he has moral responsibility. It is not enough to read about something. While we must have some confidence in regional boards, the responsibility, in the end, must fall on the appropriate Government Department.

That is why I hope the Minister will be generous. The hospital committee which looks after this hospital in the City of Wakefield has been dealing with this matter since 1949. It is nothing new. It has continually pointed out to the regional board that something should be done in this matter. But there is a good deal of remote control, and some of these things are brushed aside without consideration of the human element.

I want to read from a report which I have received from the Nurses Council. I do not wish to weary the House by reading the whole of it; but, among other things, it mentions that 43 nurses have to share one wash basin and one lavatory. Another section of the report deals with three houses in Peterson Road which accommodate residential nurses. They are 12 minutes' walk from the hospital. There is a marked lack of sanitary accommodation. There is one bathroom with two hand basins and one separate lavatory to serve 13 people. The sister tutor and a medical officer share a bathroom with the domestic staff. There is a hand basin in the medical officer's room. The nurses' houses are dark and cheerless.

There are no facilities for study. The distance of the houses from the hospital cause difficulties with regard to supervision. There are also difficulties over the provision of meals, as only breakfast is provided in these detached hostels. When nurses are off duty meals are issued from the hospital and cooked by the cleaner on duty, and the nurses must go to the hospital for such meals as they require in off-duty times. The three separate houses are most uneconomical and they are undesirable from the disciplinary point of view.

Without any question the Minister must have great feeling for the nursing profession. I want her to appreciate that these three houses are cold, damp and cheerless and they are one mile from the hospital. How can there be satisfactory supervision? Have we not a great moral responsibility to the parents of these nurses? I need not go into details and tell the Minister what can happen.

There has been a lot of talk about the need for nurses. We know we need nurses for chronic sickness, tuberculosis and mental cases. A great deal of money is being spent to publicise this noble profession. Girls are asked to go into it, but in the City of Wakefield we have conditions such as I have outlined. The Parliamentary Secretary will appreciate that every nurse should have a well-furnished room, adequately heated and ventilated, with an arm chair and hot and cold water. There should be a library and a decent place for study. There should be ironing facilities and good bathing facilities. These are the things which we have been telling our young girls would exist. We have asked them to come into the hospitals for this noble work. The Minister has said, "Yes, I agree; but what can we do?"

In this very city, £3,000 or £4,000 is being allocated to provide central heating in a police home. If there is financial stringency for the Minister of Health, there is financial stringency for other departments. This is an important matter, and responsibility falls upon the Minister of Health. I trust that the Parliamentary Secretary will be generous and will say that before she makes a decision she will visit the place. I shall be prepared to accept that. The regional hospital board provides salubrious facilities for the training of nurses in Harrogate. The Parliamentary Secretary must appreciate the expenditure of the regional hospital board; but when we, as a hospital committee, have approached the board we have had a curt official reply. The last one which I received from the board stated: My committee has given consideration to this particular question, but owing to financial stringency we do not class this as high priority, and we see no hope in the near future of granting the necessary capital. The conditions which exist are a disgrace. They are abominable. I trust that the Parliamentary Secretary will see whether she can put right an evil which has existed for quite a few years.

12.19 a.m.

Photo of Mr George Sylvester Mr George Sylvester , Pontefract

My hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. A. Roberts) has raised an exceedingly important matter. I support him, as one who lives in the vicinity of this hospital, which, in former days, was a Poor Law hospital. Under the National Health Service Act it has been rejuvenated, and is used as a maternity and general hospital. Great work is being done there. But the nurses' conditions seem to have been left out of consideration. The hospital board complains that it is all the time tied by financial conditions.

It is true that the nurses' hostels are about a mile from the hospital, in old houses. The road where they are is well-known to me. The nurses have not the facilities they ought to have. Neither are there all the facilities there ought to be at the hospital. There is no sanitary accommodation for the nurses, or for people engaged in the theatre itself. I appreciate that this was a very old hospital; but it is rather alarming that when it is transformed into a good hospital so far as the inmates are concerned, the staff do not appear to have had due consideration.

We have difficulty in our part of the world in recruiting nurses for our hospitals, and this hospital not only serves the City of Wakefield but surrounding areas for at least 10 to 12 miles from the city. I am sure my hon. Friend, if he has done nothing else, has rendered a useful service for the nurses in this particular hospital, and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will at least be able, even if she cannot tell us anything helpful tonight, to convey to the Minister the request for improvements in this hospital, and the request that he should come down definitely on the side of the staff and make an exceptional allowance to the regional board for the provision of proper facilities for the nurses there.

12.21 a.m.

Photo of Sir Malcolm Stoddart-Scott Sir Malcolm Stoddart-Scott , Ripon

Those of us who come from the West Riding are very grateful to the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. A. Roberts) for raising this question. Those of us who know this hospital, and the way in which the nurses are accommodated in Wakefield, realise that we shall not be able to staff the hospital with nurses, and keep the beds open there, unless we provide better accommodation for the nursing staff.

When the National Health Service Bill was in Committee, those of us from this side of the House who sat in the Committee took great care to see that the regional hospital boards had a considerable amount of local autonomy. We strove to see that they should be the ones to make decisions how the money Parliament voted to them should be spent.

I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Normanton in saying that the regional hospital boards must put first things first, and I think that that is the message that must go out from this House tonight. It is not for the Minister to alter a decision of the Leeds Regional Hospital Board, but it is for the Minister and the House to see that the vast sum of money we vote to that board is spent on the things that are necessary—the things that are necessary for carrying on the National Health Service in the West Riding of Yorkshire.

When we see that regional hospital board housing themselves in a great luxury hotel in Harrogate, only two-thirds of which they can use for their own purposes, for the hospital service they administer, and the nursing school they run, and when we see them spending £1,000 a year on gardeners' wages, and spending money on hothouses so that they can have plants in their offices and provide hospitals with flowers, we remember that those were not the purposes for which this House voted the money to that board.

When we see the way in which they spend their money on liqueurs and cocktails for their guests we realise that a message must go out from this House to that Board saying, "It is not for the Minister to alter a decision you have made, but you must spend your money on those things that are necessary—those things that keep the National Health Service going."

I hope that the Minister will see that the message that goes from this House is one which will make the board spend their money in those channels which will stimulate and increase our hospital services, and not harm and injure them. I am very glad to support the hon. Member for Normanton in his plea to the Minister.

12.24 a.m.

Photo of Miss Patricia Hornsby-Smith Miss Patricia Hornsby-Smith , Chislehurst

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Norman-ton (Mr. A. Roberts) for the very fair manner in which he has raised this problem. Let me say at the outset that we freely admit that on the very wide evidence we have had—indeed, it is admitted by the regional board and accepted by the Minister—this accommodation is unsatisfactory.

In the discussions between the house committee and the hospital management committee in that area there is no conflict between them that better accommodation should be provided for the nurses. The points put forward by the house committee can be summed up in this way, that they would prefer to have an entirely new nurses' home at the hospital there. Pending that, they would like to have an improvement in the sanitary accommodation for nurses and others in the hospital, redecoration of the nurses' homes, and an improvement in the various furnishings and facilities provided there.

Following the discussions between the board, the hospital management committee, and the house committee, the board have reached the decision that a new nurses' home is out of the question at present. Prices at the moment are in the range of £1,000 per place. There is the further aspect to be considered, that the policy of non-residence for nurses, other than students, is becoming more and more adopted and is one which must be considered in any question of extension of the nurses' home site in the hospital.

After reviewing all the priorities, the board, unfortunately, have decided that they cannot fit into their capital programme for the year beginning 1st April, the comparatively small expenditure necessary to improve the sanitary arrangements for nurses in the three houses. There is the further consideration, apart from the capital outlay, in regard to improvements in the toilet and bath facilities. These improvements would mean a curtailment of the present sleeping accommodation of the nurses, when the thing is to find additional sleeping accommodation. There is room for 52 people while they say that they require room for 80. The improvement would lessen further the existing sleeping accommodation. Regarding painting and replacement of furniture to make the surroundings more congenial and the facilities in this respect better, it is possible these improvements can be effected, but that is a matter which rests with the local hospital management committee. I fully sympathise with what the hon. Member says and agree that we want better and proper accommodation for our nurses. He is raising a very great matter of principle. What the hon. Member for Normanton is asking my right hon. Friend to do, is to over-ride the board on the question of priorities. I am sure he will agree, on reflection, that this goes beyond the bounds of the particular item we are debating.

If this were done, my right hon. Friend, having given the initial grant to the regional hospital board, who are more in touch with all the problems than the Minister, it would make the position untenable. When the board have been deputed to decide the priorities and the speed with which they can resolve them, and knowing their financial capabilities, it would be untenable that the Minister should, without exceptional reasons override those priorities and change the decisions of the board.

The allocation of available finance is made by my right hon. Friend, but, once that money has been allocated to the board, the priorities are decided by the board. It is not a question of the Minister being generous and finding, from some unknown source, additional money. It is a question of what priority the hospital board places on this matter. The board have the power in this respect, and they will decide if it is in the top six and not in the bottom six of the projects they have before them. They have to fit this into their capital programme. It is fair to say that the board have had to meet a substantial programme of capital expenditure for both patients and staff in the area. The board have before them a large number of projects of considerable urgency, most of them, I will admit, to the benefit of the patients.

Much though I sympathise with all the points made in this debate, I am afraid the Minister is not prepared to over-ride the decisions of the board. It is a matter for their decision and I hope that this debate will emphasise the need, which we admit, for something to be done about this nurses' accommodation. I am surprised to learn from the hon. Member for Normanton that, in the reply he received from the board, if I quote him correctly, the board did not consider this of high priority. The board's capital allocation for the next financial year is £380,000, but because of a large number of building projects and other schemes which are still in progress and are carried on to the following year they have only £118,000 to be devoted to new works.

On the Harrogate question, I think it is fair to say that most of the money referred to by my hon. and gallant Friend is maintenance money which does not come into the capital allocation we are discussing tonight. In fact, not much capital work has been done at Harrogate; and what has been done has been for the benefit of the nurses' home—which is very adequate and as well equipped as we would like to see the other one to which reference has been made—and on the preliminary training school which shares premises with the regional hospital board.

Photo of Mr Albert Roberts Mr Albert Roberts , Normanton

Why work in these salubrious surroundings, with luxury fittings, and then have to go a mile away from the hospital to old Edwardian or Victorian buildings which are cheerless? While the board must have certain powers to deal with priorities, there ought to be an investigation to find out whether or not kissing goes by favour.

Photo of Miss Patricia Hornsby-Smith Miss Patricia Hornsby-Smith , Chislehurst

I do not think that we are as much at cross-purposes as perhaps that last intervention would suggest.

We accept that this accommodation is bad; we agree it should be better; but this is a much wider problem. If items which have been put further down the list by the board are to be given priority when the local board have made their decision, that would set a precedent indeed. I can only recommend hon. Members to use all the weight of their influence and power, if they feel so strongly about this matter, as I am sure they do, to see that higher priority is given to this in their own area. If the position were reversed and we were jumping the priority of item No.5 over item No.1, all those who wanted item No.1 to go forward would immediately condemn the Minister for intervening and overriding the decision of the board. I regret that I cannot give a more adequate reply, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we support his view that this accommodation is unsatisfactory.

12.35 a.m.

Photo of Mr Horace Holmes Mr Horace Holmes , Hemsworth

Would the hon. Lady represent to the Minister the position as far as Wakefield Hospital is concerned, which covers my area as well as that already referred to? Because of this accommodation there is a danger of Wakefield Hospital having to steady down its intake because of shortage of nurses. It is a pity that nurses in Wakefield have to live and sleep in almost slum conditions, when they know full well what the hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Colonel Stoddart-Scott) said about the Harrogate set-up. Harrogate is a residential place to start with. The old Poor Law hospital is still near to a slum and the staff of that hospital are living in almost slum conditions. It is not good enough. While giving full authority to the board, the Minister should not sit back without making some representations to the board.

Photo of Miss Patricia Hornsby-Smith Miss Patricia Hornsby-Smith , Chislehurst

I am sure that the combined representations of hon. Members tonight will certainly add substantially to the feeling we have on this matter, and I hope it will show some result.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-six Minutes to One o'Clock, a.m.