Union anger at hospital cutbacks

STAFF morale has plummeted to an "all time low" at a Suffolk hospital facing sweeping cutbacks as managers attempt to desperately rein-in spiralling multi-million pound debts.

STAFF morale has plummeted to an "all time low" at a Suffolk hospital facing sweeping cutbacks as managers attempt to desperately rein-in spiralling multi-million pound debts.

Union leaders last night warned cutting 10% of beds at the West Suffolk Hospital would only exacerbate existing problems within the Bury St Edmunds unit – adding slashing jobs would increase pressure on an already over-stretched workforce.

They urged health chiefs to develop a "coherent strategy" for efficient running of the hospital, saying: "If this were a private company, somebody would have to resign or face the sack".

The Unison response comes after cash-strapped bosses announced they plan to axe 220 jobs, 10% of beds and two of the hospital's nine surgical theatres in an attempt to claw back a £7.4m deficit.

The Suffolk West PCT is also proposing to shut beds in Newmarket and the Walnuttree Hospital in Sudbury – which was saved from closure just months ago after a series of protests from staff.

Placards and signs have now been placed outside that unit, as workers have vowed to "fight even harder" against the plans this time around.

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Speaking last night, Gill Malik, a member of Unison's National Executive Committee, said: "Why should staff and patients have to suffer the consequences of the financial mismanagement of the Suffolk West Primary Care Trust and the West Suffolk Hospitals Trust?

"What has happened to all the extra money provided by the Government?

"Hospital staff and probably the people of Bury are asking why no senior managers have been called to account to explain how we are in this mess.

"How can we provide a proper service to the people of West Suffolk when we are contemplating mothballing two theatres?

"We do not have enough beds now, so the situation can only get worse if we decide to cut another 10%."

Mrs Malik said extra pressures were being placed on housekeeping staff to tackle hygiene and MRSA levels, but claimed managers had last week attempted to force changes in the terms and conditions of cleaners.

"It goes without saying that this will do nothing for the morale, retention or recruitment of staff which can only lead to a deterioration in the departments capability to provide the service required," she added.

"There does not seem a coherent strategy in place for the efficient running of the hospital. "Managers ban overtime on Friday and then go round the department pleading with staff to come in on overtime on Sunday.

"We are so short staffed we cannot function without overtime but they then impose a job freeze.

"I do not think there is a department in the hospital that is fully staffed and morale generally is probably at an all time low."

A spokesman for the hospital trust acknowledged "this is a difficult time" for staff, and said all cash received from the Government had been spent on patient care and improving conditions for workers.

Additional investment, she added, had been ring-fenced for use on high priority services such as cancer, providing more frontline medical staff and increases in pay. Cash has also been earmarked to meet a rise in drug costs, she said.

"The trust's management team changed late last year," said the spokesman. "Chris Bown, the new chief executive of the trust, started in September and his clear focus is on returning the trust to financial balance.

"A new director of operations was appointed in November whose focus is to deliver a range of key patient targets which drive up standards in patient care and we are already seeing improvements in a range of national priorities.

"They are working with the new chief executive of the PCT, Mike Stonard, in delivering a joint West Suffolk financial recovery plan."

The spokesman said the current financial position was a "historic problem" which has been building up over years, and added similar difficulties existed elsewhere in the country.

"These are very complex issues and the causes of the present financial situation are multi-factorial," she said. 

"The trust has not altered the rate of basic pay of our housekeepers. A freeze on overtime, however, was necessary to try and reduce the need for compulsory redundancies.

"We recognise that this is a very demanding time for staff. We will review the overtime freeze regularly as progress on the recovery plan begins."

Full details of the proposed cuts are due to be discussed at a meeting of the West Suffolk Hospital Trust Board on Wednesday.

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