May I say how delighted I am to be back in this place? For the last period of time, I have been working, rather like Harry Potter, under the stairs of my home in the highlands. Whether that has affected me as an hon. Member is up to others, from all parts of the Chamber, to decide.
By definition, health is devolved in Scotland, so my remarks will be pertinent to Scotland, but they may have a wider application to England. Of course, my colleague Munira Wilson will be enlarging on our party’s position in the rest of the UK. As my colleagues on the Back Benches have said, the notion of an award—a gong, a medal or a ribbon with something on the end of it—without a whole-scale review of pay and conditions is just not on.
I want to make several comments about conditions, and to quote two people. On occasion during the pandemic, from under my staircase in my home, I have telephoned Dr Alison Brooks of the Princes Street practice in Thurso, in the very far north of Scotland, and she gave me sage advice at all times. Today she said this to me about the nurses with whom she works. She knows of a nurse—a friend of hers in Glasgow—who has worked 10 night shifts on the trot just to cover the job, because colleagues were sick. Dr Brooks said to me, “Remember, NHS staff don’t just walk away; they go above and beyond. They feel a moral obligation.”
Dr Brooks encouraged me to think about the toll that it takes on NHS staff when they know that they have been in a risk situation, albeit with the best of equipment, but they go back to their families, loved ones and young ones with the niggling fear at the back of their minds that they might bring the virus back with them. When we reflect on pay and conditions, we must think about how we cover sickness absence.
My second example is from a nurse from Wick in Caithness who worked in the high-dependency covid ward in Raigmore for the duration of the pandemic. This is what she wrote to me:
“My suggestion would be that there could be skills based tiers within bandings. For example: one for those who have little clinical responsibility and/or skills;
one for those who have advanced clinical skills and responsibility.”
She says that the doctors cover the advanced stuff, but very often the doctor will have to cover the entire hospital, so they have to make clinical decisions. Perhaps remuneration for such people should be fine-tuned within the banding.
I conclude with this. When I was a councillor, a long time ago, my colleagues gave me the area chairmanship of social work because they thought that nobody else would want it. Remember that social work may be seen as a Cinderella service, and we must sort that out in the review.