‘Next three months absolutely critical for NHS’ – Blair

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‘Whether it’s redundancies or posts not being filled, thousands of jobs are still being lost in the NHS,’ a British Medical Association spokesman said yesterday.

He was referring to claims made by prime minister Blair earlier that just three hundred nurses and other NHS staff have been sacked.

The BMA spokesman added to News Line: ‘Staff across the board are extremely concerned over the direction of travel this government is taking the NHS.’

Blair was greeted with disbelief at his monthly Downing Street press conference, yesterday, when he claimed that ‘only a few hundred’ health workers have been sacked.

Blair reminded reporters that he had said in April ‘it’s crunch time for the NHS’, adding that now ‘we have to hold our nerve to see the changes through’, stressing that ‘the next three months will be absolutely critical’.

Asked ‘will there be mass hospital closures’, Blair replied: ‘We are not saying that.’

He was asked: ‘What do you say to nurses who are working in hospitals but whose posts have now been axed and they can’t get jobs in primary care trusts or care in the community because their resources and capacity just haven’t been set up yet?

Blair answered lamely: ‘We are trying to make sure that any of the nurses that come out of training and can’t find a job locally, are redeployed elsewhere.’

Blair had alongside him his new NHS chief David Nicholson.

One journalist demanded of Blair: ‘Could we have a straight answer please?

He went on ‘How many job losses do you think there are going to be in this financial year.

‘Also what do you say to trainee doctors inspired to go into the NHS by Labour’s propaganda who are now finding themselves qualifying and unable to get jobs?’

Blair called on Nicholson to ‘answer on these two things’.

Nicholson said on the job cuts: ‘NHS employers talked about 20,000. Our information is that it will be significantly less than that.’

He added: ‘We haven’t got a complete figure, but the number of redundancies is significantly fewer than the number that is being talked about at the moment.’

Blair interjected: ‘These are just announcements that people are making.

‘The actual number of compulsory redundancies I think as far as I can see from figures that I’ve got is a few hundred, not 20,000.’

Blair said Nicholson ‘is not responsible for what the local NHS employers put out.’

In his answer to a question on ‘financial mismanagement’, NHS chief executive Nicholson said ‘Some organisations are suffering from significant financial difficulties and they’ll have to deal with it.’

In one of several questions on Iraq, one reporter commented that Army chief of the general staff, General Dannatt had said that ‘Britain’s presence in Iraq exacerbates the difficulties we are facing around the world. You didn’t sack him. Is that because you know privately that he’s right?’

Blair evaded this question and later denied Dannatt was calling for troops to be withdrawn within two years.