Government accused of NHS 'sell-off' over cuts

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The Government was today accused of "hiving off" parts of the NHS and forcing Trusts to axe jobs as hundreds of fresh cuts were announced to make millions of pounds worth of savings.

The Royal Berkshire Hospital Trust said up to 600 jobs will be cut to make £60 million worth of savings in the next few years, pledging that frontline staff would not be affected.

Unison said frontline services were bound to be affected by such huge cuts and accused the Government of "conning" people into believing that its massive clampdown on public spending would not hit services.

The union also attacked an announcement of privatisation plans for an agency which provides thousands of nurses and other health workers to hospitals across the country.

The Department of Health said it planned to explore options with the private sector for potential investment in NHS Professionals, which has 50,000 workers on its books, providing staff to cover more than two million shifts a year in 77 acute, mental health, foundation and primary care trusts.

NHS Professionals, a limited company owned by the Health Department, provides a range of services including nursing, medical, admin and clerical staff to NHS Trusts across England.

Karen Jennings, head of health at Unison, said: "The whole reason that NHS Professionals was set up, was because private agencies were ripping off hospitals by charging them outrageous fees for recruiting or finding staff for shifts. It makes no sense at all to bring back private companies who will want their slice of the action in return.

"This proposal is purely about Tory plans to promote privatisation and hive off parts of the NHS to private companies, regardless of the consequences on patient care.

"At a time when hospitals are being forced to make huge savings, pushing up staffing costs unnecessarily is very damaging. A sell-off may bring a short-term cash injection, but cost NHS Trusts vast sums in the longer term."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said of the job loss announcement: "These decisions are based on the services that are needed locally and informed by sound clinical advice and patient choice.

"The Department is very clear that savings should be implemented in a way that does not affect the quality of frontline services and the Secretary of State has been very clear that every penny saved will be reinvested back into patient care."

The Royal College of Nursing said last month that thousands of NHS jobs were being cut despite Government promises to protect frontline services.

The nurses' group said it was aware of almost 10,000 posts lost through recruitment freezes, redundancies and people not replaced when they retired, or which face cuts in the future.

The Royal Berkshire Trust, which has a hospital in Reading, an eye clinic in Windsor and provides some services at a hospital in Newbury, employs 4,500 staff and said the jobs to be cut will be in human resources, IT, facilities and general backroom roles, said a spokesman.

Chief Medical Officer, Dr Jonathan Fielden, said: "Over the past few months we have shared with staff our triple aim of providing the best possible patient experience, the best possible health outcomes at the lowest possible costs.

"Everyone is now well aware that we are working to achieve our aim in a challenging financial situation which is facing the whole country and in particular the public sector."

The GMB union today warned that any move to change ambulance response targets could lead to "unnecessary deaths" and a general deterioration in the NHS.

National officer Justin Bowden said: "Our members have problems with the targets, but they would be very worried with any attempts to remove them."

The union warning follows a Government announcement all NHS targets were being reviewed.

Health minister Simon Burns said: "As part of our broader assessment of how targets work, we are looking at ambulance service targets so that we can ensure not only a rapid response to calls but also the most accurate clinical assessment between the caller and the call-handler".