40,000 NHS jobs massacre

by Caroline Colebrook

THE ROYAL College of Nursing at its annual congress last week in Liverpool warned that Government plans to reform the National Health Service while at the same time making savings of £20 billion will result in 40,000 jobs being lost — and at least half of these will be frontline staff, doctors and nurses.

The RCN has exposed the myth that NHS frontline care and services are protected, and says cuts will lead to “fewer services, fewer nurses and a worse NHS”.

Evidence from 21 NHS trusts in England showed 54 per cent of nearly 10,000 posts due to be cut are frontline clinical posts. The RCN also found that nursing posts account for 46 per cent of identified workforce cuts.

The findings will put pressure on the Government to say how patient services will be protected, as trusts in England alone aim to save £20 billion by 2015. Dr Peter Carter, RCN chief executive and general secretary, said clinical staff were the “lifeblood of the NHS” but were haemorrhaging at an alarming rate.

He said: “Many trusts are not being transparent by admitting to the proportion of clinical jobs being lost. From our research we now know the truth — the majority of job losses are frontline clinical jobs, the jobs that matter to patients.

“Cutting thousands of frontline doctors and nurses could have a catastrophic impact on patient safety and care. Our figures expose the myth that frontline staff and services are protected.”

identified

The RCN’s Frontline First campaign has identified almost 40,000 NHS posts facing the axe over the next three years. While the RCN looked in detail at 21 trusts, it also studied intelligence from 130 NHS organisations in England.

Additionally, services that help keep patients out of hospital, save money and decrease the NHS’s burden are being closed. These include intermediate care for patients who have been discharged, a residential detoxification and treatment unit, and family nurse partnerships and community falls services.

Dr Carter added that patients are not getting the same care as they did a year ago.

He said: “We know savings need to be made but cutting frontline staff and services is not the way to do it. While we are in an interim phase with new structures taking place we are seeing many patient services which we fear may simply disappear forever.”

But cuts to admin and secretarial staff also affect patient care. Doctors and nurses rely on the support of these workers to arrange appointments, make sure patients’ notes are where they should be and liaise with patients’ relatives, GP’s and so on. Without them the doctors and nurses would have to do this work themselves, taking up time they should be giving to direct patient care.

The RCN conference also debated the results of a survey that showed the NHS is propped up by the goodwill of nursing staff who work longer than their contracted hours and provide last-minute shift cover.

The results raise serious concerns about patient care as just 17 per cent of respondents reported having good staffing levels at work.

The survey of 2,000 nurses, conducted by ICM Research, found 95 per cent of respondents work more than their contracted hours, with 22 per cent saying it happens every shift.

Just 17 per cent said staffing levels were quite good or very good, while 25 per cent said they provided last-minute cover for absentee staff at least fortnightly.

The survey also found that 39 per cent of respondents missed meal breaks at least three times a week, while only 23 per cent said they rarely or never took their entitlement of breaks, and 32 per cent said they were able to get a drink of water when they needed to.

Meanwhile Liberal Democrat leader is coming under more pressure over the Coalition plans for the NHS from Lib-Dem MP Norman Lamb, who said the plans posed a major “financial risk” to the NHS, and patient care could suffer.

He said he would quit as Mr Clegg’s chief political adviser unless NHS professionals were “on board”.