Fear of hospital job cuts and wards axed

EXCLUSIVEBy Benedict O'ConnorJOB cuts, ward closures and the loss of overnight accident and emergency services are all on the cards in a radical shake-up for a cash-strapped hospital.


By Benedict O'Connor

JOB cuts, ward closures and the loss of overnight accident and emergency services are all on the cards in a radical shake-up for a cash-strapped hospital.

Chris Bown, chief executive of West Suffolk Hospital, Bury St Edmunds, said all of these measures were being considered in an effort to reduce a crippling £7.5million debt, and warned "nothing can be ruled out".

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But Richard Spring, West Suffolk MP, said he was "quite disgusted" at the latest developments and demanded an urgent House of Commons meeting with bosses of the governing regional health body, the Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire Strategic Health Authority.

Doctors, consultants, nurses and cleaning staff among the hospital's 2,500 employees all face the possibility of redundancy as bosses thrash out measures to balance the books.

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Residents in the west Suffolk also face the possibility of having no accident and emergency department between midnight and 8am and instead having to be seen by out of hours GPs.

Furthermore, the number of patients sent home immediately after operations looks set to sharply increase, with overnight stays kept to a bare minimum.

Speaking exclusively to the East Anglian Daily Times, Mr Bown said: "What we are looking at as part of our financial recovery is a whole range of options as to how we can get back into financial balance. Everything's on the table, we are not discounting anything at the moment."

Mr Bown, who joined the hospital in September, is currently working on a range of cost-saving measures, due to be announced later this month.

He added: "If you look at accident and emergency between midnight and 7am or 8am, is there any way we can do that without a full staff, that's what we are looking at."

Mr Bown said on average the accident and emergency department treated only eight patients during the hours of midnight and 8am, a large proportion of whom were not considered an emergency and some of them could be seen by out of hours GPs.

With regard to shortening hospital stays, he added: "There is a level of overnight stays that could be managed as day cases and people could wake up and go home, that reduces length of stay and demand on overnight beds."

Mr Bown said he hoped to avoid job cuts, but warned they could not be ruled out and added the problem applied to all levels of staff, But he insisted the standard of patient care remained paramount, whatever happened.

"I think there's a recognition we have to tackle the financial problem, we can't go on year after year not balancing the books. There's an understanding this is not going to go away," he said.

Mr Bown added he would be meeting with public service union Unison in the next few days to discuss the situation and had already held a meeting with staff to answer their questions about the hospital's future, where he said there had been a sense of anxiety.

But an angry Mr Spring said: "This is absolutely devastating news for the people of Suffolk. The MPs have done everything in their power to tackle this issue in Westminster and still after 18 months there has been no change whatsoever.

"We have never in the history of the health service in Suffolk been in a position like this, where cuts to health care are being planned. This can only increase the anxiety of people in the west of the county about the availability of NHS services."

Geoff Reason, Unison regional head of health, added: "Part of the understanding we have with the NHS is there will not be any redundancies, particularly in a climate where we are faced with staff shortages in key positions.

"I would vehemently oppose any job cuts and in a way I think the West Suffolk Hospital is a victim of its own success and has treated more people than it has funding to treat.

"I do have some sympathy with the board, who are facing decisions they don't want to make and which I feel are being forced upon them by the strategic health authority."

A spokesman for the strategic health authority said it was the responsibility of each hospital and commissioners to provide quality services within the money available.

"The strategic health authority's role is to oversee performance of trusts and support them in doing this, but decisions are made locally," he added.

"The strategic health authority ensures that services are delivered that meet the needs of the patients, within the resources available and provide support."

The extent of the changes at the hospital are due to be unveiled at its board's public meeting on June 29.


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