Union anger over Blair's health comments

UNION leaders in the region reacted with anger last night at comments by Prime Minister Tony Blair that there would be only “a few hundred” compulsory redundancies in the NHS this year.

By Danielle Nuttall

UNION leaders in the region reacted with anger last night at comments by Prime Minister Tony Blair that there would be only “a few hundred” compulsory redundancies in the NHS this year.

Tory leader David Cameron claims the current financial crisis in the health service is costing 20,000 jobs - a figure which managers' organisation NHS Employers has said “may turn out to not be too far off the total reduction in workforce numbers this year”.

The newly-appointed chief executive of the NHS, David Nicholson, insisted yesterdaythat the true number of jobs lost would be “significantly less” than that, but admitted that he did not know what the final figure would be.

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And Mr Blair said the vast majority of staffing reductions would involve posts remaining unfilled or people being moved to new positions, and only relatively few NHS workers would actually lose their jobs.

Speaking at his monthly press conference in 10 Downing Street, Mr Blair said: “When you actually look at the announcements, most of it is vacancies that are not being filled or posts that are being transferred.

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“The actual numbers of compulsory redundancies - which is what most people would understand by 'job losses' - as far as I can see from the figures I have got, is a few hundred, not 20,000.”

But Geoff Reason, Unison's regional head of health, branded Mr Blair's comments as “complete rubbish” last night.

He said: “We have a total of 2,800 notices of redundancies in the East of England. We are facing increasing numbers of compulsory redundancies - there are already over 100 compulsory redundancies in this part of the world.

“It's an illusion to say 'compulsory' is the test. The test is how many theatres have been closed, how many patient clinics have been restricted and how many operations have been cancelled.

“The question is should we be making qualified health workers redundant when we have a huge need for these people?

“People feel they have been led up the hill to meet targets and now we are on the top of the hill they're cutting things back.”

Fears of large-scale job cuts in the NHS have been driven by announcements by trusts around the country of staffing reductions and ward closures in order to reduce deficits running into millions of pounds.

A survey of local trusts conducted by NHS Employers suggested that the total headcount reduction might reach 20,000, though the organisation stressed in a briefing to MPs last week that this figure related to cuts in numbers of posts and not to individuals losing their jobs.

Mr Nicholson told yesterday's press conference: “Our information is that it will be significantly less than that.

“In any one year, 130,000 people move jobs in the NHS, so you get quite significant turnover. We would expect most of the changes to be dealt with as part of that.”

But Lib Dem MP Steve Webb, Shadow Health Secretary, said: “The Prime Minister is totally out of touch with reality. Around the country people are campaigning in their thousands against threats to their local hospitals.

“Reported job losses are just the tip of the iceberg. What kind of pressure will staff be under to take voluntary redundancy or take on different jobs which they may not want?

“With the new NHS Chief Executive saying that up to 60 'reconfigurations' are yet to come, more enormously disruptive job losses and service cuts can be expected.”

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