Health And Social Services Jobs’ Cuts

The largest health service employees’ union, UNISON has this week threatened ‘strong resistance’ to proposals set out last week by the Health Minister, Michael McGimpsey to pay off staff across all four health trusts as part of a three-year efficiency savings’ initiative.

The estimated staff reductions are significant: 737 nurses, 925 administrative/clerical, and 450 social work employees.

The Minister insisted these jobs’ cuts could be achieved by voluntary redundancy through staff retirement/turnover. However, Unison has demanded an impact assessment be carried out before round the table talks can begin.

Locally, dialogue has started between the Western Health and Social Services Trust and health employees’ unions into aspects of the Comprehensive Spending Review under which the Minister’s department hopes to achieve efficiency savings of £344m.

A spokesperson for the Western Trust said this week: “The Trust has noted the Minister’s briefing, and we will be launching its consultation process on the proposals for the Western area soon.”

It was at a meeting of the Assembly’s Health and Social Services Committee that the Minister presented a briefing paper that envisages 359 less nurses in 2009-10 and 378 less nurses in 2010-’11; together with 925 less jobs within administration/clerical and 450 social work staff by the end of March, 2011.

It is proposed that 41 social work staff will be let go by March next year, followed by 141 by March 2010 and 268 by March 2011. For admin and clerical personnel, it is proposed they will be let go in three stages, 471, 312, and 142 in the final year.

There will be no nursing/midwifery redundancies before the end of March next. Rather, the nursing population will increase by 15.

The SDLP’s Fermanagh South Tyrone MLA, Tommy Gallagher, who sits on the Committee, has expressed his concern about plans to axe 700 nursing jobs.

He stated: “This is a time of growing pressure on the hospital services and not a time to be contemplating the sacrificing of nursing jobs.

“Questions have to be asked about a Government that cuts nursing jobs while at the same time is able to find billions of pounds to help the banking system. The £500 billion bail-out for the banks is five times the cost of the NHS UK-wide. Surely in the interests of care for the sick and elderly, our full complement of nursing staff should be preserved.

“I urge the public who rely on hospital services at both Enniskillen and Omagh to respond to the consultation and make their feelings known. The SDLP will certainly be raising our concerns with the Minister.”

Meanwhile, Benny Cassidy, the joint branch secretary for Fermanagh/Tyrone of Unison told the ‘Herald’ that the staffs’ side had met a short while ago with Trust directors and managers.

“This is what we call a joint forum that meets to consider the wider Trust issues and, as part of that, we did discuss the comprehensive spending review. At the moment, people from the Trust are meeting with the staff to give them a general over-view on what the review will mean, the implications of the Minister’s proposals and the Trust’s position in terms of meeting targets.”

Mr Cassidy went on: “So at this stage, what we have been doing in talking, but not in specific groups. It hasn’t arrived at that point yet. We know that the staff themselves are going to be looking for information, and that’s where we are at the moment. After that, we will get into the finer detail.”

Within the Western Trust board area, some 1,865 personnel are employed in admin/clerical and 5,493 nurses and midwives.

Mr McGimpsey told the MLA’s he accepted that the figures represented a significant impact on staffing numbers but, he submitted, they had to be seen in light of the reforms in health and social care that were needed so as to provide a modern, safe, effective and efficient service.

Mr McGimpsey went on: “It will be important that employers work closely with staff and their trade union organisations in addressing this down turn in posts. Trusts have already consulted with trade unions on the likely down turn in staffing numbers.

“Although the overall reduction in posts is significant, it should be seen in the context of a very rapid expansion of staffing numbers in this decade.”

He said a reduction of circa 2,475 posts would bring staffing numbers back to those experienced in 2005.

But, he held out a glimmer of hope for those employees dreading the chop: “Our current planning assumptions are that there will not be the need for compulsory redundancies to achieve the down turn in posts. Staff turnover (ie those leaving) is running at 5%-6%. This equates to more that 3,000 staff or 2,500 whole time equivalents per annum.”

He explained that nurses and midwives make up the largest proportion and that their roles and responsibilities would continue to change in line with the health reforms that were improving care for patients.

“As more services are delivered in or closer to home”, he suggested, ” there will be many opportunities for nurses in acute settings to follow patients and work, wholly or partially, outside the hospital.”

Turning to student nurses and other trainees coming on to the job market, he estimated that health and social services would still require about 400 newly qualified nurses over each of the next three years.

“This is down from about 550”, he stated, “but the private sector has indicated that it should be able to absorb the surplus, and they are planning to downturn their recruitment of international nurses to reflect the new labour market conditions.”

He noted “Failure to achieve the efficiencies means that either planned service developments would not be provided or there would need to be cutbacks from the current pattern of service delivery.

Responding to his proposals, Patricia McKeown stated: “We are not prepared to accept a single cut in frontline services to patients, including nursing and community care. Nor are we prepared to accept the hidden outsourcing and threat of privatisation contained in the proposals.

“There is no prospect of Government meeting its own targets on reducing health inequality across Northern Ireland if Trusts engage in cost-cutting exercises which threaten vital frontline services and jobs.”

She said there were now hundreds of Home Help vacancies and thousands of vulnerable elderly left without support. “Beds and wards are earmarked for closure without ‘step-down’ facilities in the community, and plans are underway to increase private provision, particularly in residential and community care.”