Community nursing 'is a ploy to disguise cuts'

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Nurses have warned that government cuts mean patients are being forced out of hospital sooner and with more complex needs then they would have been a year ago.

Ahead of its annual congress, Britain's largest nursing union the Royal College of Nursing has released a survey where 90 per cent of nurses questioned said that cuts have had an impact on how long patients are admitted to hospital for.

The union has also warned that the Government's focus on providing care in the community is not being met with increased numbers of staff in those areas and, as such, is a cover-up for cuts to NHS nursing posts.

Over 26,000 positions have been cut in the last two years and a further 61,000 are at risk, according to the RCN. Meanwhile, there has been less than 1 per cent increase in the community nursing workforce in the last decade, and community nursing is "stretched to breaking point", the RCN says.

Dr Peter Carter, chief executive of the RCN, said: "Yet again, NHS organisations are making short-sighted cuts. Nurses are stretched too thin and many are approaching breaking point. Inevitably patients are going to suffer."

The RCN supported a shift from hospital to community care but nurses reported patients being discharged from hospital before social care support was in place.

Dr Carter said: "We are seeing a clear and worrying picture of a health service which is struggling. We want care to be delivered at home but at the moment this shift in the way care is delivered is simply a façade. Very soon patients will be left with nowhere to turn."

Among the heaviest job losses are those at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde where there was a planned cut of 402 posts for 2011-12, Sandwell and West Birmingham NHS Hospitals Trust (plans to cut 378 posts in 2012), Blackpool NHS Foundation Trust (plans for 675 staff to go between 2011 and 2014, 16 per cent of the workforce), South London Healthcare NHS Trust (5 per cent cuts each year from 2011 to 2015, totalling losses of almost a quarter of the staff).

The Health minister Simon Burns said he did not recognise the RCN's figures: "There are only 450 fewer qualified nursing staff in England than in 2009 and in 2011-12 we expect to train 2,300 community nurses and health visitors."