Despite the Government saying that health spending would be ring fenced, patients could be left vulnerable and services at risk because almost 27,000 posts are already earmarked for cuts, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has discovered – but many major staff reductions are being hidden from the public by Trusts, the union claims.
The RCN says that the 26,841 job cuts already identified – including nurses, midwives, health care assistants, clinical support staff, doctors, medical consultants, allied health professionals, administrative, clerical, estate and housekeeping staff – would be equivalent to closing six Royal Free Hospitals (London) or nine Alder Heys (Liverpool). This number does not include any job losses that could result from the 45% reduction in management costs, and abolishing strategic health authorities (SHAs) and primary care trusts by 2013.
Nurses have told their union that major staff reductions have already begun in earnest, even before the comprehensive spending review confirmed the plan to save £20 billion by 2014, which the RCN says will leave fewer staff to deal with an escalating number of patients, often with very complex needs.
When the Freedom of Information was used to ask Trusts specifically about their proposed job cuts through natural wastage as well as redundancy, some gave figures only for redundancies, failing to declare their plans to lose hundreds of jobs through natural wastage.
The Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust, asked in September to include all posts deleted through natural wastage as well as redundancy, stated: “No clinical posts are at risk of redundancy. There are 7 potential/planned redundancies at present. All of these posts are from Administrative and Managerial posts in Corporate Departments.” They omitted any mention of cuts through natural wastage. Yet in their consultation in August 2010 they said they plan to reduce headcount by up to 600 over the next three years.
Dr Peter Carter, RCN chief executive and general secretary, said: “We understand that the Government wants to protect front line services and that these are extremely difficult times. However, we have established that what the Department of Health is being told and what the public is being told is often far removed from the evidence on the ground.
“Even when asked questions under the Freedom of Information Act, trusts are omitting to mention advanced plans to cut staffing numbers. The alleged protection of the health service is proving in practice to be a myth, and patients and services are not insulated from cuts.”
He added: “When the £20 billion in cuts was announced, we were told that this would be reinvested back into frontline services. Staff and patients will want to know if and how this is happening.”
“I would urge trusts to carry out a proper impact assessment before making any changes to services. We also recommend to all managers that they prioritise safe staffing levels when they are looking for ways to save money.”