In the absence of Senator Dowdall I move the Second Reading of this Bill. It is a Bill entitled "an Act to make provision for pensions for registered nurses and midwives and for the payment of contributions towards such provision and to make provision for divers matters connected with the matters aforesaid including the amendment of the Public Hospitals Act, 1933." The first section deals with definitions. A "nurse" means a woman who has adopted nursing as her sole mode of livelihood and who is registered by the General Nursing Council of Saorstát Eireann. The word "midwife" means a person who carries on no other occupation than that of midwife and who is certified by the Central Midwives Board of Saorstát Eireann. The next section provides that the Minister may by order appoint a day to be the appointed day for the purposes of the Act.
Section 3 deals with the qualification for pension. It states:—
Subject to the provisions of this Act, a pension shall, if the statutory conditions are complied with, be payable to every nurse registered by the General Nursing Council of Saorstát Eireann and to every midwife registered by the Central Midwives Board of Saorstát Eireann who has acted as such nurse or midwife for a period or periods of not less than 20 years in the aggregate from the date of her registration as such nurse or midwife.
The fourth section provides that the pension payable to a nurse or midwife shall be a sum of £30 per annum or such other greater sum as the Minister may from time to time determine. The fifth section sets up a Nurses' Pension Endowment Trust. It states that before the appointed day, the National Hospital Trustees shall out of the Hospitals Trust Fund, transfer to the credit of a separate account, the sum of £250,000 which shall form a separate fund to be known as the Nurses' Pension Endowment Trust and shall be held by the trustees upon trust to invest, manage and apply the same in accordance with the Act.
Section 6 provides that for the purpose of making provision towards the cost of pensions payable under the Bill, contribution shall be paid in such manner as the Minister shall prescribe by each nurse and midwife at the rate of 6d. per week, commencing as from the appointed day. Under Section 7 it is provided that the Minister shall keep a separate fund to be called and known as the Nurses' Pension Fund and shall maintain and manage such fund in accordance with the Bill. There shall be paid into the fund (a) all interest, dividends and income and all sums in the nature of bonus received by the National Hospital trustees in respect of the securities in which the Nurses' Pension Endowment Fund is invested, and (b) all money collected as contributions in pursuance of Section 6 of the Bill. All pensions payable under the Bill shall be paid out of the fund.
Section 9 deals with the form of accounts, audit, etc. Section 10 voids any assignment or charge on a pension. That is, the pension cannot pass to any trustee or to any other person acting on account of creditors. Section 11 deals with the making of regulations. It provides that the Minister may after consultation with the Minister for Finance make regulations generally for carrying the Act into effect and in particular, (a) for prescribing the manner in which pensions may be claimed and the manner in which pensions are to be paid, and (b) for enabling a person to be appointed on behalf of any claimant or person entitled to, or in receipt of a pension, who is by reason of any mental or other incapacity unable to act, to exercise any right to which such claimant or person may be entitled under the Bill.
This Bill does not include mental nurses. It applies only to nurses and midwives engaged in private work or in hospitals. Perhaps I should say something about what is required in the training of a nurse. I might first mention that this is the second attempt by this House to provide pensions for nurses and midwives. The House will remember that over two years ago an amendment to the Hospitals Sweepstakes Bill, 1933, providing pensions for nurses, was unanimously adopted here. That amendment was ultimately withdrawn on the Report Stage on the suggestion of the Parliamentary Secretary. It needs no words of mine to recommend this Bill for the acceptance of the Seanad. It is well known that nurses are scandalously underpaid and for that reason it is quite impossible for them to make provision for their old age, or for the time when they are left without occupation on account of their age or sickness. Nursing is a very strenuous and trying occupation and nurses frequently break down under the strain. It is also common knowledge that no one wants to employ an elderly nurse.
To become a nurse a young woman must enter a clinical or other recognised hospital as a probationer. She must be over 18 years of age, must be in robust health and vigour, and her character must be unimpeachable. She must have attained a high standard of education. When she is appointed a probationer nurse, she is, in most hospitals, required to serve for four years, and almost all the hospitals in Dublin demand fees varying from £30 to £73. In most of the hospitals she receives no salary for the first year's service, and, in many, no salary for the second year's service. She has to pass two State examinations in anatomy, physiology, hygiene, pharmacology, medicine, surgery, etc., and has to pay £5 5s. 0d. for these examinations. These terms and conditions may have had something to be said for them when the hospitals were in straitened circumstance, and were supported by voluntary subscriptions, but they are not justified now. The reason why these conditions continue to exist is because the probationers are only individuals. They are up against large bodies with very conservative rules and regulations. The conditions of service and salaries for young persons have greatly improved during the past 20 years, but, as far as probationer nurses and midwives are concerned, they remain much as they were. It might be asked why do private nurses give their services for inadequate fees; the reason is that if they raised their fees, they would prevent a large section of the public from employing them and consequently they would be worse off. These are only some of the reasons I might put forward for support of the measure, but perhaps I have said sufficient to ask the House to give it a Second Reading.