Nurses cut by 50,000 in five years

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Health Editor

The number of "frontline" staff on hospital wards fell by 13 per cent, or about 50,000, in the five years to 1994, as the number of managers increased by 400 per cent, or more than 18,300, according to figures released yesterday.

Cuts in the number of nurses and midwives varied from 5 per cent in the South West to 22 per cent in Mersey, and North West Thames. The number of nurses in training fell by more than 19,000, almost one- third, in the same period.

The nurse/manager ratio highlights the dramatic change of emphasis in the National Health Service, Labour said yesterday. In North West Thames there were 297 nurses for every manager in 1989, but 19 in 1994. In North East Thames, the ratio was 61 nurses for every manager in 1989, falling to 13 in 1994. Labour claimed a "massive slump" in frontline NHS staff and said the figures reinforced reports by the British Medical Association of severe staff shortages.

The Royal College of Nursing said the figures reflected their own findings, and that senior nurses with years of experience in particular were being swept up in "indiscriminate purges".

Earlier this week, paediatricians reported a crisis in intensive-care units, with dangerously sick children, some with meningitis, being turned away because of bed shortages. Although some hospitals have been told they can open new beds to cope with the extra demands of the recent meningitis scare, shortages of specialist nurses to staff the expansion prevents them from doing so.

Henry McLeish, Labour's spokesman on health, said thatevery day there were "10 more senior managers and 30 fewer nurses". The increase in managers varied from 1,100 per cent in North West Thames to 180 per cent in South Western region.

Mr McLeish accused the Government of "systematically and deliberately" covering up the crisis by changing the way figures were compiled. "Stephen Dorrell's [the Secretary of State for Health] recently announced purge of bureaucrats could result in more nurses being sacked as NHS hospitals try to meet Government targets to cut management costs," Mr McLeish said.

Gerald Malone, health minister, said that there were 34,000 more nurses in the health service than in 1979, many working from GP surgeries