GENERAL HOSPITALS MAY HAVE TO CLOSE says NHS Chief Executive Sir Ian Carruthers

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Health service union UNISON yesterday condemned the suggestion by the acting NHS chief executive that whole district general hospitals will face closure.

Warning of a shake-up of district general hospitals, Sir Ian Carruthers said in an interview yesterday that ‘the action that we need to take is challenging, probably amongst the most challenging in the history of the NHS’.

He stressed that ‘we need to meet the challenge of the deficits’.

UNISON health spokesperson Anne Mitchell told News Line yesterday: ‘Closing down hospitals or hospital wards will have a major impact on waiting lists and patient care.

‘Instead of these drastic solutions, the Department of Health should look at the cause of these deficits.

‘We have private companies taking billions of pounds out of the NHS, PFI costing local trusts huge sums of money and a constant round of “re-organisation”, undermining the stability of the service.’

Signalling the closure of A&Es and other departments, Carruthers added that ‘in some areas, you will need significant restructuring and service reconfiguration’.

Asked would this mean the closure of whole hospitals, he replied that he could think ‘of few instances where we are talking about closing whole hospitals’ but that ‘you can never say never’.

The acting NHS chief also warned trust bosses: ‘There should be no delay in getting a grip on budgets and increasing productivity.’

UNISON’s spokeswoman Mitchell added to News Line: ‘The focus should be on the patients and not on “productivity”.

‘We all want an efficient NHS that is responsive to the needs of patients and the local community.

‘Productivity usually means less staff having to work harder.’

She confirmed, in the event of cuts, that ‘UNISON will back any calls from branches for industrial action when compulsory redundancies are in the offing’.

Meanwhile, Sharon Holder, GMB National Officer for the NHS, reported to the union’s annual congress in Blackpool yesterday: ‘GMB is very concerned at reports of wholesale redundancies in the NHS caused by a financial crisis.

‘This government is pouring billions and billions into the health service. We’re now seeing record levels of investment.’

She asked: ‘So why are deficits occurring at this time of plenty? 

‘NHS bodies are legally required to balance their books. But there are four main reasons why this isn’t happening.

‘Poor local leadership and financial management. PFI. The new “payment by results” tariff system and perverse accounting procedures.

‘Some GMB members suspect that some trusts are using this so-called crisis as a cover for workforce restructuring.

‘Health service workers’ jobs should not be put at risk either because of management failures or policy muddles.’

• Second news story

THOUSANDS OF DOCTORS FACE THE SACK

Thousands of doctors could be forced to leave the country to avoid unemployment, the British Medical Association (BMA) warned yesterday.

The BMA Junior Doctors Committee will meet with officials from Modernising Medical Careers today to ask what employment options there will be for the 11,500 doctors who cannot get into specialist training programmes.

The Committee has been in talks with government officials after it learned there will be around 21,000 junior doctors competing for 9,500 training posts in England in 2007.

Next year, existing ‘Senior House Officer’ posts will all be phased out as part of the government’s ‘Modernising Medical Careers’ initiative.

Last week, the government announced that 9,500 specialist training posts would be created in their place, with the group of doctors applying for them in England likely to number around 21,000.

These will include Senior House Officers, doctors emerging from new foundation programmes, and international medical graduates.

The government has not confirmed what will happen to the remaining 11,500 doctors.

Some may have the option to move into ‘non-training’ posts, where their development is essentially put on hold.

However, most junior doctors would prefer to continue their training overseas than to take up a non-training post. Australian authorities have already come to the UK to recruit doctors.

Dr Jo Hilborne, chairman of the BMA’s Junior Doctors Committee, says: ‘To get to this stage of their careers, these doctors will have spent five years at medical school and at least two years in postgraduate training.

‘For each of them, this has cost the taxpayer around a quarter of a million pounds. The fact that they could face unemployment is outrageous.

‘The alternative – pushing doctors into dead end jobs so they never get essential skills that would benefit their patients – is unacceptable and won’t work. Doctors are simply going to leave the NHS instead.’

The BMA will also seek an assurance that the problem will not result in overseas doctors employed on the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme being prevented from completing their training in the UK.