More than 56,000 NHS posts have been lost or become at risk over the past 18 months, according to latest data gathered by the Royal College of Nursing as part of its Frontline First campaign.
In its latest update report on the campaign, the college said 56,058 posts had been lost or earmarked for closure across the UK since April 2010, of which 48,029 were in England.
Around a third of those affected are nursing posts, the RCN believes. The figures are based on information collected from 220 NHS trusts across all sectors, with more detailed analysis of 41.
The report, published on Sunday, also warned that freezes on recruitment, or the use of bank and agency staff, would contribute to fewer nurses on the ground.
In addition, the report said the “downbanding” of posts was common, with leavers replaced by new staff at lower grades or current staff moved down a band. This is in spite of health secretary Andrew Lansley telling the Commons health select committee he had no knowledge of the problem affecting existing staff (news, page 2, 18 October).
The Frontline First campaign was launched in November 2010. Its last update, published in April and based on information from 21 trusts, identified nearly 10,000 NHS posts in England due to be axed by 2015, of which 4,429 were nursing positions.
RCN general secretary Peter Carter said the latest figures revealed the “deeply worrying acceleration in NHS post losses in recent months”.
He said: “Staffing levels should be based on rigorous clinical evidence and should not be arbitrarily lowered in a short sighted effort to save money.”
RCN head of policy Howard Catton acknowledged the college’s analysis did not take into account all new posts created in service redesign programmes, which might counterbalance some of the posts lost.
But he said there was scant evidence of “true service redesign”, as opposed to services simply being downgraded which felt “like cuts”.
Among the biggest cuts identified are at Heatherwood and Wexham Park NHS Foundation Trust. The RCN says it lost 280 full time posts in 2010-11 and plans to cut another 533 by 2014, equating to more than a quarter of its total 2010 headcount.
Heatherwood and Wexham Park human resources director Janet Lynch said the trust “did not recognise” the 533 figure, and was redrawing its plans for 2011-14. She emphasised that out of the 280 posts lost in 2010-11 only 19 were made redundant, adding that when wards are closed staff will be redeployed where possible.
Meanwhile Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust plans to lose 1,916 positions by 2016, accounting for 23 per cent of its 2010 workforce.
In a statement, Central Manchester said it “doesn’t recognise the figures quoted about our organisation in the Royal College of Nursing’s Frontline First report and is unable to make any further comment”.
Responding to the Frontline First report, NHS Confederation deputy chief executive David Stout said the “major challenges” faced by the NHS meant it had 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,” he said.
Mr Stout added: “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.
“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.”