5 WARDS AND 300 STAFF FACE THE AXE – in Lincolnshire hospitals

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Staff at United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust have been shocked by the sudden announcement on Monday of plans to close five hospital wards and axe 300 jobs.

East Midlands UNISON yesterday voiced its concerns over the number of job losses planned by NHS trusts across Lincolnshire.

It said in a statement: ‘Five wards have been identified for closure (two at Pilgrim Hospital, two at Lincoln County Hospital, and one at the Grantham and District Hospital).

‘Across Lincolnshire, the NHS authorities are proposing to have 300 fewer staff by the end of the year, in order to make financial savings.’

North Lincolnshire Health UNISON branch secretary Dave Godson said: ‘UNISON is disappointed that this announcement comes at a time when the government have planned to release £500 million for front line staff.

‘At a time of supposed record investment in the NHS, it is ironic that Lincolnshire should be faced with major reductions in bed numbers.

‘Staff affected were only told about the plans yesterday, and many of them will have concerns about their job prospects.

‘Lincolnshire NHS trusts have stated that as many staff as possible will be retained and redeployed, and UNISON’s position is that we will not accept any compulsory redundancies.’

The UNISON statement concluded: ‘Talks between the employers and representatives of the trade unions affected will be held within the next few days, to consider their response to the plans.’

The county trust faces a budget deficit of £8.1 million for the year 2004/2005 and says if it does not make drastic cuts it will face a £20 million shortfall for the year 2005/2006.

The total annual income for Lincolnshire NHS is more than £800m.

The county trust claims it does not plan to close hospitals, but South Kesteven District Councillor John Hurst warned the ward closure at Grantham could raise the question of the closure of the entire hospital.

United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust said its ‘recovery plan’ depends on improved access to diagnostic tests; better community care so patients can be discharged sooner and cutting costs through leading the way in modernisation and new technology.

Its press statement added it plans: ‘Using the new staff contracts to promote flexibility, with new roles for many staff groups with the introduction of new technology.

‘In the future hospitals may have fewer, more highly qualified staff and will treat more patients with fewer inpatient beds.

‘It is anticipated that through the modernisation programme the hospitals Trust will be employing approximately 300 fewer staff by the end of this year.

‘During 2004 more than 600 staff left the hospitals Trust so there is potential to use this staff turnover to reduce the number of people employed.

‘With fewer patients needing to be admitted to hospital, enabling more patients to be discharged sooner and more day case operations being carried without the need for an overnight stay in hospital, the hospitals Trust will be able to reduce the number of inpatient facilities.’

Earlier this month, the British Medical Association warned the amount of NHS money being handed out to private companies to run private treatment centres for NHS patients would lead to hospital closures and NHS staff being made redundant.

l Meanwhile, it has been revealed that, due to a beds shortage, patients from St Clements psychiatric hospital, Mile End, many of them on heavy medication, are being driven six miles away to sleep overnight at Newham Centre for Mental Health and driven back to St Clements in the morning.

Others are forced to sleep in chairs or on sofas.

Bed shortages also mean that beds are not available for some patients at St Clements in the day time.