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6. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): What plans he has for bringing the pay of NHS employees up to the level of comparably qualified people working in the private sector. [486]

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. John Hutton): Independent pay review bodies recommend levels of pay for medical, dental and nursing staff, and for some allied health professionals. The review bodies are required to take account of recruitment and retention of their remit groups. In addition, we are working in partnership with trades unions and professional

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organisations to agree modernised and fairer pay systems for all national health service employees. Our proposals for pay reform were outlined in the NHS plan.

Simon Hughes: I am disappointed that it is not the Secretary of State at the Dispatch Box. Labour's NHS plan states that the Government are in favour of a new pay system for the NHS, and figures published today detail the pay received by the service's humble and self-effacing nurses. They show that general nurses get about two thirds of what is paid for agency work, while a theatre-registered general nurse gets paid about half the rate for an agency job.

Is it the Government's plan to bring the pay of people who work for the national health service up to the levels available outside, so that they will not leave the service and work elsewhere? If so, will he ensure that all those working for the NHS come within the pay review body structure? Above all, will he ensure that ambulance personnel receive the sort of pay that people who save lives every day deserve?

Mr. Hutton: I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are serious about pursuing the matter of pay modernisation and reform in the NHS. The NHS is the biggest employer in the country, with more than 1 million staff. It is trying to recruit and retain staff in a very competitive labour market. Good progress has been made with the introduction of new retention and recruitment schemes for primary care staff, nurses and others, but there is, of course, more to be done. However, the key to the reform of the pay system, for which the hon. Gentleman and others have called, will be to make progress on the proposals that we outlined in February 1999.

Those proposals to oversee and overhaul the pay system were confirmed in the NHS plan, and they depend on establishing a modern system of job evaluation. It is very important that we get that right, which is why we are trying to reach agreement with the trade unions and the professional organisations.

It is very important for the NHS to make progress on pay. We are serious about making progress as quickly as we can.

Paddy Tipping (Sherwood): Surely one of the best ways to reward and motivate NHS staff is to identify and promote best practice, wherever it occurs. Will my hon. Friend the Minister deny the outdated dogma of "private sector good, public sector bad", and seek change and higher morale in the NHS by looking at existing best practice in our surgeries and hospitals?

Mr. Hutton: I agree very strongly with my hon. Friend. The big problem for the NHS has existed since the beginning in 1948: how do we incentivise and reward good practice across the service, so that people in Cumbria or Cornwall can be equally confident that they are getting the best possible service? I also agree that a key approach is to find new ways to reward and incentivise staff, and we are prepared to do that.

However, although pay is an important element, the Government can do other things to improve the morale of NHS staff and to help with their recruitment and retention. For example, we can ensure that the NHS is the best

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employer in the country, as well the biggest. We can look at child-care facilities, provide access to such things as low-cost housing, and make more widely available across the service more family friendly patterns of employment. All of that will help the NHS in all parts of the country, as well as in my hon. Friend's constituency.

Mr. Speaker: I call Mr. Desmond Swayne.

Mr. Milburn: Hear, hear.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): I thank the Secretary of State for his welcome.

What did the Government mean when they told the review body for nurses' pay that there was

What planet is the Minister on?

Mr. Hutton: The hon. Gentleman lives on the same planet as the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames). It is not one inhabited by normal human beings.

What we mean is that there is a job of work to be done to improve recruitment and retention across the NHS. That is precisely what we are doing. We have announced new plans and new proposals to make sure that we make progress. There is no question of our not living in the real world.

Conservative Members are full of the NHS now, the things that are wrong with it and what they want to put right, but I remind them that during the month of the general election campaign they would not talk about it at all. They were too frightened and too embarrassed about their policies to have the confidence to talk about them to the public.

Demographic Change

7. Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West): What new resources he will make available for areas of continuing population growth. [487]

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Jacqui Smith): My hon. Friend's constituency will benefit from the increased investment that the Government are making in the national health service. In distributing the increased investment, we allocate funding to health authorities on the basis of the relative needs of their population. The most important determinant of need for health services is the size of the population, and each year we update the formula that we use to take account of the latest available population projections from the Office for National Statistics.

Dr. Starkey: May I remind the Minister that Milton Keynes is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country and has had an increase in population year on year of 2 per cent. for more than a decade? Although some extra beds have been provided in our hospital and we are to have a new diagnostic and treatment centre, the occupancy rate for adult acute beds averages 93 per cent. My hon. Friend's fellow Minister of State, my hon Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Hutton), who visited the hospital before the election campaign, understood the stress that the hospital was under, and he

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has also received a letter from consultants at the hospital stressing their problems. Will she urgently consider providing both capital and revenue inputs now to bridge the gap until the new diagnostic and treatment unit comes on stream?

Jacqui Smith: I recognise the pressure that staff at Milton Keynes general hospital are working under. I have seen the letter that my hon. Friend sent to my hon. Friend the Minister. I thank her, as an advocate for her constituency, and the staff of the hospital for the good work that they are doing under difficult circumstances. I agree that it is important that the plans for the new diagnostic and treatment centre are taken forward as quickly as possible. I understand that the project board has been set up.

I understand my hon. Friend's concern about extra funding to deal with some of the problems. We are actively considering a recent bid from the health authority for £1 million of additional resources for Milton Keynes general hospital. That bid is receiving extremely active consideration from my hon. Friend the Minister. That money would be on top of the extra resources that the authority has already received.

It is important that, in undertaking its modernisation review, the health authority looks at the particular needs of the Milton Keynes area and how they can be addressed. I hear what my hon. Friend eloquently says on behalf of her constituents, and I know that my hon. Friend the Minister, who is considering that bid, has also heard it.

Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire): Is the Minister aware that, despite the projections, my constituents in North-East Bedfordshire still find themselves with a health authority that is some £17 million underfunded, even though it is an area of substantial population growth? When can she reassure my constituents that adequate resources will be made available by her Government before that population growth comes on stream so that we do not have continually to play the inadequate game of catch-up?

Jacqui Smith: As I have already outlined, the key issue for the hon. Gentleman's constituents is how the formula allocates the resources. We have already made it clear in the NHS plan that we are anxious to reduce inequalities, that that would be a key criterion for allocating NHS resources and that we shall be considering how to level up the resources of less well funded health authorities. The hon. Gentleman, who has experience of election campaigns, both successful and unsuccessful, has a bit of a cheek to return to the House pressing for extra funding after campaigning during the election on a promise of between £16 billion and £20 billion of cuts. One cannot say one thing to the country and another to the House.

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