Monday, 21 November 2011
Royal College of Nursing attacked by ministers for saying 56,000 staff face the axe under coalition programme
The main nursing union was embroiled in a furious row with ministers last night after claiming that 56,000 doctors, nurses, midwives and other NHS staff have lost or are due to lose their jobs, despite David Cameron's pledge to protect front line health workers from the brunt of the cuts.
Analysis by the Royal College of Nursing, which warns of an impending crisis in the NHS, says clinical posts make up 49% of the 56,058 job losses in the workforce, with nursing posts accounting for 34% of the jobs already lost or earmarked to be cut.
David Cameron and Andrew Lansley, the health secretary, have promised repeatedly that frontline staff would be protected from the effects of £20bn in efficiency savings to the NHS being carried out over three years as part of efforts to reduce the national deficit.
In the run-up to the general election, Cameron said he would "cut the deficit, not the NHS". Accusing the government of making hollow promises in its election manifesto, the RCN says it has found evidence that 8% of qualified nursing jobs will be jettisoned under the trusts' plans and that patients' lives will be put at risk.
Dr Peter Carter, the union's chief executive and general secretary, said: "These figures reveal the deeply worrying acceleration in NHS post losses in recent months. It is only 18 months ago that we were concerned about losing around 5,000 NHS jobs. Now it is more than 10 times that figure. 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."
The figures emerged at the end of an embarrassing week for the government during which the health secretary was forced to make a U-turn on previous waiting list targets by issuing an extra care directive in response to fresh evidence that waiting times were creeping higher.
The RCN says Heatherwood and Wexham Park Hospital NHS Foundation Trust in Berkshire lost 280 staff in 2010-11 and plans to axe 533 more from 2011-2014 as part of its "transformation project". This equates to a loss of 25% of its total 2010 workforce. Kingston Hospital NHS trust in Surrey, the union says, plans to reduce staff numbers by 486 posts from 2011 to 2016. This is 19% of its total 2010 workforce.
The RCN's figures drew a furious response from the government last night. Simon Burns, the health minister, described them as "union scaremongering" and said the health department did not "recognise" them.
"Official government statistics show only a 1% drop in nurses since May 2010. This is only 500 less nursing staff than there were in September 2009. In contrast this government has taken tough action to slash the number of managers by 13%.
"It is simply untrue to suggest that it is impossible to make efficiency savings in the NHS. We delivered savings of £4.3bn in 2010-11, and patient care improved all the time. Waiting times are low and stable, mixed-sex accommodation has been reduced by 90%, and more treatments are being offered – including the 7,500 patients who benefitted through our cancer drugs fund."
The NHS Confederation, which represents health care organisations, also accused the RCN of taking an unbalanced approach. David Stout, its deputy chief executive, said: "Given that about 70% of the NHS budget is spent on people, it is unrealistic to expect staff to be unaffected. The RCN is counting the number of job losses and automatically assuming that any job going is bad for patients. That is just is not the case.
"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," he added.
The RCN says it has found examples of cuts to preventative services, to the community health sector and to mental health services. In Birmingham and Solihull NHS Cluster it cites plans to decommission Birmingham Own Health, a healthcare service for people with long-term conditions which is run by NHS Direct. The service provides one-to-one advice and support to people in several languages to help manage their condition.
Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust's proposed redesign of inpatient adult mental health services in Hampshire would mean the closure of two hospitals – the Meadows and Woodhaven, the union says. This would result in a loss of 48 beds. The Guardian
Mental health services for society's most vulnerable people are unfit for purpose, according to the findings of a damning independent inquiry published today. The Independent