'One carer for 500 patients'

ONE health visitor in Suffolk is having to look after more than 500 patients as Suffolk's NHS cash crisis deepens, it has been claimed.Adrian Axtell, regional secretary for Amicus, the union for manufacturing, technical and skilled persons, warned there was something “terribly wrong” with the health service and that patients and staff should not be forced to suffer because of financial mismanagement.

ONE health visitor in Suffolk is having to look after more than 500 patients as Suffolk's NHS cash crisis deepens, it has been claimed.

Adrian Axtell, regional secretary for Amicus, the union for manufacturing, technical and skilled persons, warned there was something “terribly wrong” with the health service and that patients and staff should not be forced to suffer because of financial mismanagement.

He said he knew of one situation in the county where one health visitor had a case load of more than 500 patients.

He also revealed that staff morale within the county is plummeting to an all-time low as care workers struggle to cope with the shake-up currently proposed for the health system in the east and west of the county.


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Under the plans, which have been put forward by Suffolk East Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) and Suffolk West PCT, there will be a shift away from hospital care and a focus on caring for people within their own homes.

If given the go ahead the controversial proposals will lead to some day hospitals being closed, the number of beds available being slashed and jobs having to be cut.

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Mr Axtell said Amicus members from Suffolk will be travelling to London on January 10 to lobby MPs to ask “Where has all the money gone?” and to let the Government know that patients and staff are entitled to a better deal.

He continued: “Something is going terribly wrong in our health service. Despite record government funding - £87 billion this year - we are facing devastating cuts affecting both patients and staff alike.

“Here in Suffolk we are seeing a reduction of more than 70 beds at Newmarket and West Suffolk hospitals and hundreds of jobs are to go along with the closure of three day hospitals.

“For many months staff recruitment has been frozen. Amicus believes that by freezing vacancies, health authorities are implementing cuts to patient care by stealth, particularly in primary care services that are invisible.

“While morale among the staff left carrying the can hits rock bottom, stress caused by overwork is high. I know of one health visitor who is struggling with a case load of more than 500 patients. These patients include some of the most vulnerable members of our society; the elderly, children and people with disabilities.”

His comments were made just days after it was revealed that Combs Ford Surgery in Stowmarket may have to close for the whole of March if East Suffolk PCTs decide to defer much needed GP payments until the next financial year - as has been suggested.

The news has sparked fears that patient care will suffer across the county as health bosses struggle under the strain of multi-million pound debts which they have to repay within two years.

Mr Axtell continued: “The government has mooted the idea of hiving off huge areas of primary health provision to the private sector. Workers such as health visitors, language therapists, and community nurses would no longer be employed by the NHS.

“Instead GP surgeries will be able to bid for more work from health trusts. With the proposed changes to primary care provision, GPs, voluntary and private sector companies could all end up making a pretty penny out of our health service.

“Amicus is not against change but we oppose change for change's sake. You only need to look at hospital cleaning to see that the private sector has not delivered a better service or value for money. Amicus health professionals say that what they really want is the opportunity to just get on with their jobs.”

A spokesman for Suffolk West PCT acknowledged that some staff are concerned by proposals in the Modernising Healthcare consultation document and also by the future reconfiguration of primary care trusts.

He said: “The consultation period ended on December 12 but no decisions will be taken until the New Year so it is premature to start talking about bed closures. However, if we do move towards new models of care the vast majority of affected staff will help deliver the new types of service and, if necessary, be given special training.

“The reconfiguration of PCTs will mainly affect managerial and administrative staff but every effort will be made to avoid compulsory redundancies. We are working hard to keep our staff fully informed of developments and are doing all that we can to address their concerns.”

Jan Rowsell, spokesperson for Suffolk East PCTs, said: “We have a wonderfully committed staff and everybody within the trust and on the board management team recognise this. They have been doing a difficult job in a period of possible change and continue to do the very best for patients.

“Many staff are excited and positive about the changes which have been proposed especially with the possible move away from an institutionalised way of caring within hospitals to one which is more community based within people's homes.”

A spokesperson for the Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire Strategic Health Authority (SHA) declined to comment saying it was down to the individual PCTs to decide how they manage and support their staff.

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