Cameron blames Brown for NHS job cuts

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Gordon Brown was forced on to the defensive over his Budget as the number of job cuts threatened in the National Health Service passed the 3,500 mark.

The Tories accused the Chancellor, who barely mentioned the NHS in Wednesday's Budget speech, of trying to cover up a financial crisis which showed the billions he had pumped into health spending had not secured the reforms trumpeted by Labour.

Yesterday the the County Durham and Darlington Acute Hospitals NHS Trust warned that up to 700 of its 6,000 posts may be cut over the next three years. It blamed government-ordered changes including the use of the private sector to perform NHS work and how hospitals are paid for operations.

This week, the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, north London, announced it was to shed 480 posts under plans to save £25m in the next year; the New Cross Hospital in Wolverhampton is to axe 300 jobs to claw back debt that is set to top £38m and Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust announced it was cutting about 200 jobs to help save £22m.

Last week, hospital bosses in Staffordshire revealed that up to 1,000 staff could be made redundant in Stoke-on-Trent to reduce a £15m debt.

Other possible job cuts include: 300 at the Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Trust; 300 at the Royal Cornwall; NHS Trust;190 at Queen Mary's Sidcup NHS Trust and 155 at the Royal Bolton Hospital.

Further job losses are in the pipeline. The East Kent Hospitals Trust, one of England's largest, warned yesterday that jobs may be axed in an attempt to reduce a predicted £35m deficit next year.

The Tory leader David Cameron, visiting the Wolverhampton hospital, claimed the job cuts were a "direct result" of the Chancellor being the "roadblock to reform" in the NHS.

He said: "Gordon Brown's failure was underlined yesterday by the Budget which had nothing to say about the NHS despite cuts taking place right across the country. After eight years, Labour has simply given up on improving the health service."

Job cuts were "extremely serious" because staff were key to the expansion and improvement in the performance of the health service, said Mr Cameron.

Andrew Lansley, the Tory Health spokesman, predicted that the deficits in NHS trusts could total £750m, three times the figure forecast by the Government in December. "The money has doubled over the past eight years but the reform is not there," he said.

Efforts by NHS trusts to balance their books before the start of the new financial year next month dominated Mr Brown's media interviews on the morning after his 10th budget.

He told GMTV health trusts would receive an extra £6bn in the next financial year and a further £6bn the year after that. "Most organisations in the NHS are getting more money next year and more money the year after," he said.

The Chancellor said efficiency was important so that new, but often expensive, treatments, for example for breast cancer and heart disease, could be brought in. "We want the NHS to bring in the most modern treatments as soon as possible so we have got have the most efficient use of resources," he said.

Mr Brown told BBC Radio Four that only a small number of trusts had deficits. "They have got to sort their problems out. There is more money going into the health service. It is our duty to have more value for money."

The Chancellor hinted that he wants Tony Blair to make a decision on when he will stand down as Prime Minister. Asked about a possible handover, he declined to use Mr Blair's formula that he would serve of "full term" or predictions by Blairite ministers that he would not leave Downing Street until 2008.

"He has said he is not going to stand at the next election and he has said he wants a stable and orderly transition and that's really up to him," said Mr Brown. He added that no movement could occur "before there is a decision on whether there is a vacancy".