Nurses warn NHS health trusts plan thousands of job cuts by stealth
A survey by the RCN found thousands of jobs were already earmarked for cuts in an attempt to slash costs.
Health trusts are planning to cut thousands of staff “by stealth” to deliver £20bn of “NHS efficiencies”, according to a survey by the Royal College of Nursing. Labour reacted by promising that there would be more jobs in the health service at the end of the next Brown administration if it wins the election.
The move comes as Gordon Brown addresses the RCN’s four-day annual conference today. More than 4,000 nurses have gathered in Bournemouth for the event, which is expected to be dominated by NHS finances.
The nurses’ union has been riled by a warning from Sir David Nicholson, the chief executive of the health service, that up to £20bn of savings will have to be found by 2014.
A survey by the RCN of 26 of the 168 English health trusts revealed that 5,600 jobs were already earmarked for cuts in an attempt to slash costs. That figure could rise to more than 36,000 in a “worst-case scenario” if the trend was replicated across all hospital trusts, said Howard Catton, head of policy at the Royal College of Nursing. The loss of posts – including redundancies and staff not being replaced if they leave or retire – could happen over the next three years, he added.
In an online survey of 287 nurses earlier this month, the RCN said hospital wards were already operating with an average of 13% fewer staff than officially needed. Nine out 10 nurses said that patient care was being compromised by short staffing.
There is little doubt that the nurses’ union, which has 400,000 members, has political clout. Last year Brown became the first prime minister to speak at the conference in its 93-year history – to a warm reception by delegates.
Although health has not been a major focus of this election campaign, the issue of NHS job cuts is an explosive one for Labour. In 2006 the then health secretary Patricia Hewitt was jeered and slow-hand-clapped by nurses as she tried to address their fears about NHS deficits.
Andrew Burnham, the health secretary, told the Guardian that savings would come from wage restraint, cutting management costs by a third, and asking “some nurses and doctors to take on different roles in different locations outside of hospitals”.
“It is unlikely that we would need fewer people in five years in the health service. Labour will ensure sufficient funding to frontline NHS services so that they do not need to make any compulsory clinical redundancies and we will ask the NHS to co-operate across organisational boundaries and work towards ensuring this basic guarantee,” he went on. “Cutting doctors, nurses and frontline staff would be costly, counterproductive and would risk a return to the kind of NHS we saw under the Tories.”
The problem for Labour is that decisions on savings are being made at a local level. The RCN points out that managers at some trusts are already openly equating efficiency savings with job cuts.
In an open letter to staff, the chief executive at Salford Royal, a foundation hospital, said: “We are about to enter a financial crisis that could ruin all that we have achieved … this means reducing costs by about £16m a year [and] providing safe standards of service with about 250 fewer people for each of the next three years.”
The market reforms that Labour implemented have made it possible for hospitals to identify savings easily. Dorset county hospital, which made 28 posts redundant in March, admitted that its strategy to “attract more patients” with 300 new staff had failed, leaving a putative black hole of £11m in next year’s budget. The hospital issued a blunt press release: “These extra patients never came and so we are left with rising costs but without the income to cover them.” .
The Conservatives say that their promise to outspend Labour on the NHS insulates them against the charge that the health service is not “safe in their hands”. They say that thousands of NHS medics will lose their jobs over the next five years under Labour’s “secret” cost-cutting plans, which would see 651 fewer doctors and 2,050 fewer nurses across England.
Disclosures made under the Freedom of Information Act at the request of the Tories show half of NHS trusts that responded were planning reductions in the numbers of full-time equivalent doctors and nurses.
The shadow health secretary, Andrew Lansley, said: “We will back the NHS. Conservatives will increase funding for the NHS each year in real terms. So instead of Labour’s cuts to doctors and nurses, we will support the recruitment of staff we need, like specialist nurses, midwives and health visitors.”
Tags: Andy Burnham, Conservatives, Gordon-Stalin-Brown, Health, Health Professionals, labour, labour cutbacks, labour liars, nhs cash shortages, nhs cutbacks, NHS productivity, Nurses, Patricia Hewitt, RCN