National Health Service, England and Wales

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 11th July 1961.

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Photo of Mr Richard Marsh Mr Richard Marsh , Greenwich 12:00 am, 11th July 1961

Occupational therapists and physiotherapists after three years' training may remain in the same basic grade for twenty years and at the end of that time their maximum is £650 a year. These staff shortages are producing Gilbertian situations. The taxpayer spends hundreds of thousands of pounds on advertising. The Minister does not even know how much it costs to advertise for staff in the Service. I have been trying to far two days to find out from the Ministry how much is spent on advertising. Most hospitals have a regular advertisement in the local paper and in periodicals. They do not expect to get many applications, but it shows that they are doing their best, which is more than the Minister can say. The Minister does not know how much of the taxpayers' money is spent on this advertising. Yet one hospital in London last year spent more than £4,000 in advertising for staff which it could not get because it did not have the £4,000 to spend on staff salaries.

We now have a new feature—specialised employment agencies to provide staff which the Service cannot provide. There are two firms in London which exist to provide a 24-hour radiography service because of the shortage of radiographers in the Service The Service cannot provide radiographers, and so private firms have to do so. Those firms are very lucky. The Service trains the radiographers and then they go to private firms because the Minister will not pay them a decent rate of ray. The result is that the hospitals have to pay twice as much money to get the job done by private enterprise. The maximum basic grade for a radiographer is £630 a year. It is a career grade for many people.

Last year one hospital in London spent just over £2,000 in having X-ray work done by a private firm. If it had not been done by private enterprise, State enterprise could not have done it. This is an appalling situation. There are now medical secretarial agencies which supply staff at rates more than 50 per cent. above those applicable in the Health Service. Is it any wonder that we have an economic crisis if this is the way the Government run nationalised industries? We hear a lot of criticism of the nationalised industries. A quick glance at the National Health Service shows that what is wrong is not the nationalised industries but those who are running them. One hospital spent £5,000 last year in securing hospital secretaries from a specialised agency. Would it not have been better if it had been able to spend that money in ensuring that its staff had a reasonable rate of pay so that their services could be retained?

I mentioned earlier—it is an important point—the question of the incompetence in this field in the Minister's Department and the difficulty of getting into operation agreements which have been reached. The staff have a great feeling about this. I will give some typical examples. A.C. circular No. 93, a clerical circular, was agreed by both sides on 10th May this year, but it was 20th July, before it could be published and after that before it found its way into the pay packets. P.T.A. circular No. 88 was agreed on 2nd May, but it was 29th June before it could be published. M.C. Circular for nurses, No. 94, was agreed on 10th January this year, but it was 3rd March before the Minister could issue it. After staff have been waiting twelve months for a salary increase and agreement has been reached, one cannot tell them that they have to wait another two or three months while one prints the circulars and puts the increase into operation.

This is the position that we have arrived at today. We can make many suggestions about what could be done with the Whitley Councils and how they should be changed. I think that it would be much better from all points of view if the negotiations were direct between the Treasury officials and the staff side officials Witch management side representatives in an advisory capacity. But that is purely a personal point of view It is essential that there should be built-in arbitration machinery in the National Health Service.

All of this is just indicative of a deep-seated difference of attitude between us. Some hon. Members opposite have tried to have a non-partisan approach because we are talking about the National Health Service. That really will not wash. We want to see improvements in the Service, but we are obstructed at every corner by the Government. The whole question is full of political controversy because it involves the basic difference of approach between the two political parties in the country. Hon. Members opposite will never understand why I and my hon. Friends feel so strongly about the National Health Service.

I agree with the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins) on this issue. The National Health Service represents the fundamental division between the two sides of the Committee. We do not believe that this world or this country should be a jungle, with the strongest grabbing what they can and those who cannot grab doing without. [Interruption.] If the hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Sir M. Stoddart-Scott) has eaten his dinner too quickly, he should avoid making revolting noises as a result of it.

We do not believe that the sole aim of parties in this country is the acquisition of particular things for a particular political group. What we want is a National Health Service of which everyone can be proud. We have seen the steady whittling away of the National Health Service in a nation which boasts of its affluence. This attitude betrays the inherent callousness of the approach of Members opposite. We believe that the civilisation of a nation is not measured by the number of television aerials, nor by the size or opulence of its bingo haunts, but by the extent to which it is prepared to defend the education of its children, the living standards of its old people, and the health of the nation as a whole.

In our opinion, the Government, by their approach to the National Health Service—indeed, to social activity as a whole and to social intervention by the Government—abrogate their responsibilities, and pursue a policy which is not only inefficient but which we regard as basically anti-social. For that reason, we will go through the Lobby against the Government tonight.