Nurse cutbacks prompt care warning

THE number of specialist nurses in the east of England being laid off because of crippling debts will have a detrimental affect on patient care, it was warned last night.

THE number of specialist nurses in the east of England being laid off because of crippling debts will have a detrimental affect on patient care, it was warned last night.

Karen Webb, regional director for the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), said the group was “deeply worried” that those needing treatment will suffer because health trusts had to find solutions to their crippling financial situation.

The cuts will lead to less face to face contact between patients and nurses and declining levels of care, she claimed.

But hospital trusts have assured the public this will not be the case and that they will continue to strive to find a balance between minimising costs and maintaining current standards.

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In its financial recovery plan, to be considered at a trust board meeting tomorrow, Ipswich Hospital is looking to cut 15 specialist nurses in an effort to claw back £16.7million worth of debt.

It is proposing to lose 350 posts in total, as well as close up to four operating theatres and about 71 beds along with a review of all roles in administration and non-clinical areas.

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Meanwhile West Suffolk Hospital, which is trying to find £2.4m worth of savings by the end of the years and has a historic debt of £12m, is set to shed 260 posts - although it is not known if any of these will be in specialist nursing.

Mrs Webb warned elderly patients would be most vulnerable to the changes because they were less vocal in their opposition.

She said: “Our concerns are largely about the access that patients have to specialist nursing services because if trusts take away these posts they will decrease the services available.

“Patients might not have to wait as long to be treated but the person that they see will not be specialised in that particular area and therefore not as well qualified to assist.

“At Ipswich the cuts are being driven by a desperate need to find financial balance but we see the measures as a short term solution rather than long term strategic planning.

“We are deeply worried. What we are finding across the eastern region is specialist nurses are being cut from the most vulnerable services such as gastroenterology and stoma which largely affect the elderly, where patients are less vocal and politically active.

“They are soft targets because people don't like talking about these conditions so they maybe don't make a song and dance about it.

“However if children's' nurses were being affected to the same degree then there may be more of a fuss - that's not to say this isn't happening because the cuts are being made in all areas.”

A spokeswoman for Ipswich Hospital said while the trust appreciated the RCN's concerns it had to strike a balance between maintaining current standards and financial stability.

She said: “We acknowledge these are dark and difficult days and we recognise and completely appreciate the concerns of the RCN.

“Our challenge is to make sure we continue to provide high calibre patient care but in a way which is affordable and achievable.

“Like many NHS trusts we cannot continue to go on doing what we do and we need to strike a balance between safe guarding patient care and limiting the impact on staff throughout the trust.

“We very much value specialist nurses but compared to other hospitals our benchmark costs for this particular role are high and that it why it has been a proposal for change.”

A spokesman for West Suffolk Hospital was unavailable for comment last night.

Specialist nurses

§ A nurse who has advanced knowledge and competence in a particular area of nursing practice.

§ They are used in a wide range of areas including accident and emergency, dialysis, general paediatrics, cardiology, oncology and psychiatry.

§ Pay varies according to the area of the country in which they live and the trust they work for but can be between £20 and £28 an hour for a weekday or weekend.

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