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Over a third of nursing posts earmarked for cuts

Nursing union warns that NHS is heading for ‘crisis point’

Jo Carlowe

Monday, 21 November 2011

The NHS is heading for ‘crisis point’ with thousands of healthcare positions due to be slashed across the UK.

This is the warning from the Royal College of Nursing which states that 56,058 NHS positions across the UK are due to be cut.

The RCN states that in England, the pace of post cuts has risen by more than 50% with 48,029 NHS posts set to be cut or already lost since the RCN began tracking post losses in April 2010. Just seven months ago, the figure was 30,873.

An RCN analysis of 41 trusts in England revealed that clinical posts make up almost half of the total workforce cuts with nursing posts accounting for more than a third of the posts earmarked to be cut.

RCN Chief Executive & General Secretary Dr Peter Carter described the new figures as ‘deeply worrying’.

“Cutting staff numbers by up to a quarter and axing a third of nursing posts will undoubtedly have a deep and potentially dangerous impact on patient care,” he said. “There is clear evidence that the quality of care and patient safety is improved when you have the right numbers and skills in place on wards. Staffing levels should be based on rigorous clinical evidence and should not be arbitrarily lowered in a short-sighted effort to save money. We are currently working with Peers to table amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill to ensure mandatory safe staffing levels.”

The RCN report claims to have also uncovered a number of trends including downbanding - when registered nurses are replaced with nurses of a lower band or unregistered nursing assistants; cuts to preventative services, to the community sector, and to mental health services. And it states that in addition, many NHS organisations are attempting to move away from nationally agreed pay and conditions in attempts to meet their savings targets.

But David Stout, NHS Confederation deputy chief executive, said it was unrealistic to expect staff to be unaffected in the current climate.

"The NHS faces major challenges at the moment with growing demands for health services and no real increase in funding. That means we have to change how we do things to get the maximum bang for buck on behalf of patients. Put bluntly, this means we have to take out fixed costs – beds and posts – to avoid going bust and to maintain or improve care.

“While overall NHS clinical staff numbers will remain at around the same level they are now, services will have to be offered in different places and by staff with different sets of skills,” he said.
And he added: "We all need to be honest with the public, patients and staff that we have no pain-free option. Managing the financial challenge, while undergoing a huge structural reorganisation, is going to be tough. There is no doubt that many staff will find this personally very difficult.”

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