The Guardian reports that Health trusts are cutting thousands of jobs to deliver £20bn of NHS “efficiencies” despite the coalition government’s promises to protect frontline services, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has warned this.
The union says its survey of 100 NHS organisations showed that 9,973 posts had been lost through recruitment freezes, redundancies and staff not being replaced when they retire. This is the equivalent of 47 jobs a day over the last six months that have gone, been frozen or will go, and is double the figure the nurses’ union reported two months ago.
In April, the RCN warned that at least 5,600 posts had been lost or were earmarked for cuts, based on data from 26 trusts in England. Peter Carter, chief executive of the union, said the latest job figures did not augur well for the future and it was likely that the number of posts under threat was higher. “We have hard evidence of 10,000 jobs. This is from 20% of the NHS, so if it was replicated, it would be very worrying,” he said.
The union said there was a “growing gulf” between government pledges to protect frontline services and the “short-sighted” cuts happening in trusts.
The survey showed that trusts were adopting a series of measures that would, said Carter, pose “significant problems in the short term” for patients. In more than 25 health trusts there were plans for compulsory redundancies, several others were closing wards to save money, and some had proposed rebanding jobs to make savings.
Ministers have told the NHS to find £20bn in efficiency savings by 2014 but Andrew Lansley, the health secretary, has promised to protect frontline services. Yesterday Lansley’s colleague, health minister and former nurse Anne Milton, blamed health trusts for “living in the past and interpreting efficiency savings as budget and service cuts. This is wrong.”
The union said it was increasingly concerned that the “penny-wise, pound-foolish approach” of the NHS would see specialist services – such as mental health, end of life care and children’s respite facilities – being cut or decommissioned to save costs in the short term, leaving a bigger bill in the future.
Patients’ groups were scathing about the job cuts, saying that the result was there would be “less staff to care for patients”. Katherine Murphy, director of the Patients Association, said: “Even at current levels sometimes patients feel there aren’t the staff available … These cuts will make the situation even worse and the effects on patient care could be disastrous.”
Anecdotal evidence from nurses suggests that the NHS has been squeezing staff numbers for years. Nurses, care assistants and domestic workers are today doing the jobs of two or three people in the past. You only have to look at a city hospital to see that staff are stretched to the limit.
The number of nurses due for retirement will also place huge burdens on staffing levels and patients could be at risk.
In the nineties, the UK government filled the gaps by recruiting thousands of nurses from The Philippines, India and Africa, but with the current interim cap on immigration this solution looks unlikely in the near future.
General nurses are not even listed on the official ‘shortage occupations list’ despite the fact that nursing homes are crying out for RGNs.
Around the world nurses continue to be in short supply, especially those with suitable experience, the right kind of specialisation and an English qualification.
Although recruitment to the US has almost ground to a halt due to a combination of visa retrogression and the recession, demand in other countries such as New Zealand, Australia and Canada remains firm.