Union leaders warn cuts will see 50,000 NHS jobs lost

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More than 50,000 posts are to be shed across the NHS, including doctors, nurses and midwives, as managers hunt for efficiency savings, trade union leaders warned last night. The scale of the job losses being forecast dwarfs the previous predictions of redundancies in the health service.

It will fuel union plans for protests against the spending squeeze and push the future of the NHS, which faces widespread structural reform, towards the top of the political agenda.

NHS spending has been ring-fenced by the Government, but its managers are still under pressure to find savings because of the soaring demands on their budgets. John Appleby, chief economist at the Kings Fund, said: "Some hospitals are in financial difficulty and all are facing a cash squeeze on the tariff, which has been frozen. They are also planning for a future where they have less work because of pressures to move care out to the community."

That will translate into at least 53,000 posts being cut, and the final figure could be much higher, according to research compiled by a new anti-cuts website False Economy. It based its prediction, which was dismissed as "scaremongering" last night by the Department of Health, on Freedom of Information requests, research by the Royal College of Nursing and foundation trusts' annual reports.

According to False Economy, the cuts are falling across the country, with East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust expecting to shed 1,013 staff by 2015, including 50 doctors and dentists and 270 nurses, midwives and health visitors; University Hospital of North Staffordshire NHS trust removing 1,349 full-time posts, and Royal Devon and Exeter NHS foundation trust losing 1,115 posts.

Other trusts hit include Belfast Health and Social Care (1,755 posts), Countess of Chester (461 posts), Royal Cornwall (650), Wrightington in Wigan and Leigh, near Manchester (533). Job cuts of more than 15 per cent are also reported in mental health trusts in Coventry and Warwickshire, Derbyshire, Merseyside and Kent and Medway. Most posts are likely to be lost through natural wastage, rather than compulsory redundancies, but False Economy warned the losses would be hard to achieve without harming frontline care.

Brendan Barber, the TUC general secretary, said the research "gives the lie to Government claims the NHS was safe in their hands". He said: "Not only are they reorganising the NHS in a way that strips out many of its founding principles, but also insisting on immediate cuts that will certainly harm frontline services."

Hamish Meldrum, chairman of the BMA, said: "We agree absolutely that slashing posts represents a false economy.

"Cutting staff or services is not the only, nor the best, way to save money in the NHS. There needs to be a much greater focus on reducing waste, such as that created by the bureaucracy of the internal market."

Peter Carter, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said: "We know that many Trusts are facing financial difficulties but cutting jobs and services is never the answer."

A Department of Health source said the figures were "deeply misleading" and contained many errors.

"This is scaremongering from the unions. We do not recognise the figures. We promised to reduce NHS bureaucracy and plough this money straight back into patient care and that is exactly what we are delivering.

"Since May we have 2,500 more doctors, more nurses and more midwives – and 2,000 fewer managers." John Healey, the shadow Health Secretary, said: "David Cameron promised to protect the NHS, but cuts on this scale will hit patient care, and there's a big risk that we will now see the NHS go backwards."

Last week Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, warned the Government's "dangerous" plans to reorganise the NHS, under which most of the health budget handed to GPs, would be opposed by the public.

He plans to return to the theme in coming weeks, arguing that the moves would take power away from patients and waste £3bn that could be spent on care.

NHS cuts: The real picture

53,150 Total number of confirmed, planned and potential NHS staff cuts

27,000 Previous estimate of job cuts, published by the Royal College of Nursing last November

15% Cuts expected at mental health trusts including: Coventry and Warwickshire Partnership, Derbyshire Mental Health Services, and Mersey Care

20% Staff cuts planned by Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust

1,755 Posts being cut by Belfast Health and Social Care Trust in 2010/11 including 620 nurses