Nearly 50 nursing posts could be axed at a trust taken over by the private sector earlier this year, Nursing Times has learnt.
Circle is considering cutting 46 nursing and healthcare assistant posts at Hinchingbrooke Healthcare Trust, after a review suggested it was more generously staffed than other hospitals.
The firm took over the struggling Cambridgeshire trust in February, making it the first NHS district general hospital to be managed by the private sector.
The move to cut posts has been condemned by the Royal College of Nursing, which criticised the independent provider for failing to consult with staff and unions.
One of Circle’s promises when it took over the franchise was to increase the time nurses spent with patients and to improve staff engagement.
Under its “partnership” business model – recently highlighted in the national media – staff are encouraged to take an “entrepreneurial” approach to improving the services they provide.
RCN Eastern regional director Karen Webb said staff had learnt of the recommendations on 3 August. “These plans have been drawn up without any consultation with staff or their representatives,” she said.
Ms Webb told Nursing Times the plan focused on an overlap between staff on early shifts and those coming in later in the day as an area to make potential savings. But she argued this was a busy time with major drugs rounds, staff carrying out complex care and opportunities for senior staff to talk to relatives and carers.
“We know that nurses are feeling extremely pushed. They are feeling let down. They were sold this hype that everything was going to be wonderful but it is not happening,” she said.
A trust spokeswoman said the cuts were currently only a recommendation from an external consultant – commissioned as part of its transformation programme – and no final decision had yet been taken.
“The review highlighted some opportunities for greater efficiency, and we’re currently considering the recommendations and drawing up new arrangements,” she said.
“As with all decisions taken under our partnership model, we’ll be consulting extensively on the new arrangements, and letting those closest to patients have their say on the best use of staff time in each area.”
She added: “Hinchingbrooke currently employs significant numbers of temporary nursing staff, so we expect to manage any transition in the nursing workforce through natural turnover.”
Nursing Times’ sister title Health Service Journal reported earlier this month that Hinchingbrooke had made a £2.3m loss in the first three months of the financial year and was behind plan on cost improvement savings.
The 10-year deal struck between Hinchingbrooke Health Care Trust and Circle means the trust needs surpluses of at least £70m over the next decade to pay off its £40m debts.