Losing out to paper shufflers

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Senior nurses with vital clinical experience are being made redundant as part of a drive to cut back on the "grey suits" and "paper shufflers" in the health service, according to the Royal College of Nursing.

In targeting National Health Service employees on more than pounds 20,000 a year, trusts are axing senior ward sisters, intensive-care staff and other specialist nurses, the college has discovered.

The RCN congress heard that the Government's policy of cutting management costs by 5 per cent was seriously affecting patient care. The college's national council was instructed by delegates to investigate the impact of the cuts on nursing.

Christine Hancock, RCN general secretary, said Stephen Dorrell, Secretary of State for Health, had confirmed in a meeting last month that nurses were not meant to be under threat and that he would monitor application of the policy.

Proposing the motion Jacqueline Filkins, of Carlisle NHS trust, said that many senior grades had a management component in their job and were therefore vulnerable to redundancy. Even staff nurses were expected to manage resources, said Ms Filkins, nursing representative on her trust board.

She said the Government did not intend to target nurses, but trusts were facing considerable financial difficulties and had misinterpreted ministerial policy: "Trusts are losing vital leadership, not just the shufflers of papers.

''Many of the people ... have extensive knowledge and practical experience. Expertise is being lost to the trusts."

She knew of more than 100 senior nurses in trusts who had been made redundant, but that was the "tip of the iceberg".

A spokesman for the Department of Health confirmed that the jobs of employees on more than pounds 20,000 a year were under review, but that the exercise excluded those in clinical specialisms, clinical teaching staff or managing community nurse teams of fewer than 20 people.

He said the department would reissue guidance to trusts later this year which would "consolidate" advice already given by the Audit Commission.