Unions call for NHS crisis talks

Health unions have joined forces to call for crisis talks with the secretary of state over the rash of job cuts across the NHS. Hospital trusts have announced more than 4,000 job cuts in the past few weeks as they try to balance the books.

And the Tories say redundancies could go as high as 20,000, with one in three trusts ending the year in the red. But Patricia Hewitt is insisting only a minority of trusts are affected and that patient care will not be affected.

The Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of Midwives and four other health workers’ unions said there were real concerns over further job cuts being announced in the coming weeks.

Unison’s head of health, Karen Jennings, who is chairing the partnership of six unions, said the threat of more redundancies in the NHS emerged daily and that unions wanted to put forward some positive proposals to help ease the crisis.

In a letter to Ms Hewitt she wrote: “Our members are on the frontline and they tell us that you cannot have constant change in the NHS without it causing instability.”

The unions were particularly worried because none of the redundancies announced so far were from the trusts with the worst financial problems, she said.

These are being targeted by so-called “turnaround teams” to bring them back into financial balance. “It is therefore likely that we will have more bad news from those 18 trusts with the worst deficits and the government must take action to stop this jobs cull,” Ms Jennings added.

Head of health at Amicus, Gail Cartmail, said it was not good enough to blame the minority of NHS trusts which are facing financial difficulties. She called on trusts to halt the “panic-driven, slash and burn approach” to cutting jobs and to adopt a more mature way of handling their budgets.

Gordon Brown faced criticism for not helping the health service in Wednesday’s Budget. Within hours of delivering his financial plans for the coming year, it was announced that 480 jobs were to be axed at north London’s Royal Free Hospital.

Since then the County Durham and Darlington NHS Trust, said it was cutting 700 jobs over the next two years and East Kent Hospitals NHS Trust predicted job cuts. {mospagebreak}

Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt has repeatedly claimed that only a minority of health trusts are in the red and that they can achieve financial balance over the next year if they work more efficiently. “Even where trusts are now making some reductions – starting with agency staff, managers and administrators – patients should be reassured by the determination of clinicians and management to maintain the best care for patients.”

But Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has accused the government of abandoning the NHS and said: “Much of the money it has pumped in has been wasted by bureaucracy or the mismatch of supply and demand,” he said.

He added that the laying off of such a huge number of doctors and nurses was absurd.

Former health secretary Frank Dobson said the main cause of deficits, cuts, closures, job losses and reductions in patient care in the NHS was the latest round of re-organisation. Nigel Edwards, director of policy at the NHS Confederation which represents over 90 per cent of NHS organisations, said there were two main reasons for the job loses.

Some had been necessary to balance the books and others had been because trusts had decided they could do things more efficiently by providing care outside hospitals, he added.

The past two weeks have been characterised by successive job cut announcements:

  • North Staffordshire NHS Trust said it was axing 1,000 jobs to battle a £30m deficit for next year – 750 of which would be compulsory.
  • Wolverhampton’s New Cross Hospital also said it was expecting to make 300 job cuts to help tackle a £38m deficit
  • The Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust which is expecting an £8.1m deficit for this year announced 300 job losses
  • Some 200 job cuts are predicted both at Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust and at St Mary’s Hospital in Sidcup, Kent
  • Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Trust is predicting 300 job cuts
  • Peterborough and Stamford NHS Trust wants to cut 185 jobs and
  • 90 jobs are expected to be axed at Kingston primary care trust in Surrey
  • NHS Direct is also predicting losses to the tune of 400 jobs