Parliament: Dobson demands pay boost for nurses in lower grades

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LOW-PAID nurses are likely to have their pay boosted amid the worsening winter crisis in the National Health Service, senior ministers hinted yesterday.

The Health Secretary Frank Dobson admitted that the shortages of medical staff had contributed to recent problems, and said he hoped the Pay Review Body would give "special attention to the pay of nurses in the lower grades".

Earlier, Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, said the review body needed to take into account "the special circumstances of nurses, particularly nurses starting out in the NHS.

"Our evidence to the review body suggests the need for pay reform to make sure that nurses have a modern, fair and flexible employment within the health service," Mr Brown said during a speech in Edinburgh.

Speaking after a meeting with Tony Blair about the NHS winter crisis, Mr Dobson warned in a Commons statement that the icy winter could worsen present shortages.

Mr Dobson said over 2,200 schemes were under way nationally to cope with the pressures and parts of the NHS suffering particular problems had been told they could draw on a pounds 50m contingency fund.

Stressing the Government's commitment to end cuts in training places for nurses, Mr Dobson said it was also addressing the concerns of qualified nurses who had left the NHS.

"We want to attract them back, not just with better pay but with family- friendly shift patterns and a better and safer working environment... A high priority for more small-scale investment will include replacing out- dated and unreliable equipment." He told MPs the flu outbreak seemed likely to be on the same scale as the winters of 1994 and 1996, although it could still get worse.

Ambulance journeys had almost doubled in Merseyside and Greater Manchester. In London, the New Year was the busiest on record with over 4,700 journeys compared with a daily average of 3,000.

He declared: "The situation seems to be easing but it could get worse again if icy weather were to lead to a lot of falls, particularly among the elderly."

But Ann Widdecombe, the shadow Health Secretary, said his remarks would not make the "slightest bit of difference to those now lying on trolleys in fear, in pain, waiting for treatment." Blaming the Government's "ludicrous obsession" with cutting waiting lists, she added: "Your early pledge has made worse the current crisis in the NHS because it has distorted clinical priorities away from patient priorities.

"Why don't you end your ludicrous obsession to cut waiting lists and change it to waiting list time and quality of treatment which is a far more sensible way of assessment."