Orders of the Day — National Health Service (Nursing, Medical and Other Professional Staffs)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27th March 1962.

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Photo of Mr Richard Marsh Mr Richard Marsh , Greenwich 12:00 am, 27th March 1962

I think that is unkind. The right hon. Gentleman obviously has a heart. It is merely that he mislays it for much of his political life.

The rate of pay of a dark-room technician at the age of 25—a man of that age could be married and have a family—is less than £8 a week. The absolute maximum rate of pay for a dark-room technician aged 29—the great horizon, the Shangri-la to which he looks forward—is £535 gross a year. In the face of these facts, are we really entitled to say that the only answer we have is to set up a committee, that we think the position is serious, that we ought to do something about it but that we cannot do anything about it at present because there is an economic crisis and that the Chancellor is grappling with economic difficulties? Every time the Chancellor grapples with an economic difficulty he comes back six months later with a bigger one. I believe that a lot of people on both sides of the House wish that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would stop grappling because the country is getting into a terrible state because of it.

How much do we spend—taking up the point made by the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth—on hidden expenditure and how much does it cost us? Can the Minister tell us how much we spend on advertising for staff which we cannot get because we will not pay them properly? This is a major piece of expenditure, and the problem arises directly out of Government policy. A lot of public money is involved, so we are entitled to ask specifically how much we spend on advertising throughout the country.

The hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) believes that we should look at this sort of expenditure very closely. I can quote one hospital in the London area which last year spent £4,000 on advertising for staff. The hon. Member who spoke on behalf of the Liberal Party when its members were here earlier in the day before it got dark and cold, whereupon they all went home, mentioned the fantastic figure of something like £100,000 being spent with the Nursing Mirror alone. I must say that that figure struck me as a rather large one, but the cost of advertising these vacancies in the National Health Service at the moment is certainly astronomical.

This is not only a matter of advertising vacancies. There is a new service growing up. People are finding commercial profit out of the National Health Service, out of the public exchequer, by providing services which the National Health Service cannot provide for itself. An agency operates to provide medical secretaries, and the National Health Service pays twice the price that it would pay to its own secretaries to medical entrepreneurs to got them from outside.

There are private commercial concerns providing a 24-hour radiography service. There are catering services, contract gardening and cleaning services, essential services which the Minister of Health cannot provide for himself. Private concerns are providing these essential services and are lining their pockets in the process because of the meanness of the Ministry in not paying its own staff properly.

I do not want to speak for long in this debate, but I thought that some sort of introduction to the subject was essential. To be serious, it would be agreed on all sides that the recent smallpox outbreak frightened everybody. It frightened all who had children. No doubt it frightened hon. Members opposite. It frightened me, and it frightened my constituents. There is something almost obscene about death by this insidious disease. There is something about it which frightens even the bravest man who in other circumstances might well perform acts of gallantry.

But we should not lose sight of the fact that every one of those smallpox cases was looked after by volunteers prepared to risk their lives in the service of the community. At least one died as a result of a cold-blooded decision voluntarily to take this risk. They were not all nurses. We make a mistake if we confine this to nurses. There were old ladies who scrubbed floors, porters who pushed patients, laboratory technicians who carried out tests, and nurses. In every section there was no shortage of staff to nurse the patients, and the staff did the job well. They underwent the risks because they had a vocation and felt that they had a responsibility to society. For that reason society has a responsibility to them.

I do not believe there is a possibility of widespread strike action in the hospital service. I have worked in this sphere and cannot imagine widespread industrial action in it. We can all feel secure; if our children are taken seriously ill, they will get devoted care. These people will not let us down. Precisely because they cannot fight for themselves, we believe that the House has an obligation to fight for them. It is time hon. Members opposite stopped talking about their vocation and what they might do in the future and got down to the realisation that if only they will apply political pressure to their own Front Bench, they have it in their power —and they know it—to change the situation which they have said they find so distressing.