ROYAL FREE BED CUTS! – 100 beds and a number of wards to go

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London UNISON health convenor Geoff Martin yesterday slammed plans by the Royal Free Hospital NHS Trust to slash up to 100 beds and close wards in a bid to ‘save approximately £15 million’, with further ‘savings’ to come.

Martin said: ‘We are moving into the busy winter period and with the continued threat of terrorist attacks in London, to be closing frontline services in the capital makes no sense at all.’

The Royal Free treated some 61 victims of the July 7th London bomb attacks.

Royal Free UNISON assistant branch secretary Mairi Armstrong told News Line: ‘We are not happy.

‘We are not the only ones it’s happening to. There will be quite a lot of changes.

‘Without knowing the full scale, it’s difficult to say more.

‘I’m going into a meeting this afternoon.’

The north London hospitals group also said fewer patients would stay overnight in an attempt to tackle a foundation trust deficit of £10.2 million.

Martin added: ‘The idea that you can prop this up with day surgery is completely flawed.’

The British Medical Association yesterday expressed concern that the situation at the Royal Free was becoming commonplace across the country.

A BMA spokeswoman told News Line: ‘Although NHS trusts have, for many years, struggled with their finances, some are now in serious financial difficulty which has led to cuts in patient services.

‘Despite recent increases in funding, trust managers face balancing rising patient activity with an ever-increasing number of government initiatives and performance targets, not all of which are properly thought out or funded.’

The Royal Free Hospital, which has a total of 1,000 beds, said the deficit was a major factor in it dropping from a two star rating to zero stars in 2004/5.

Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt has said the government will not bail out trusts who run into deficit.

A Royal Free NHS Trust statement said: ‘A consultation period has begun over changes to the patient journey at the Royal Free in order to free resources to bring the organisation back into financial balance.

‘The staff and local community are being consulted during August and it is hoped to introduce most of the changes from 1 September.

‘Some changes are significant and are part of an overall savings programme aimed at reducing turnover by seven per cent recurrently.

‘Initial changes will save approximately £15m (on a £350m turnover) and further changes will be necessary in the next few months, but once the organisation is in recurrent balance it can start investing again in improved services and facilities.

‘Indeed, in order to achieve some of the savings, some investment will have to be made now, for instance in patients’ hotel-type accommodation, in new theatre equipment and in our radiology department.

‘Our main approach in summary will be to:

• admit patients as day cases unless there is a clear clinical reason not to. If they need to be near to the hospital for social or other reasons, we will provide on-site hotel/hostel accommodation.

• admit patients only in accordance with their clinical need, eg on the day of surgery and not before make more efficient our treatment and care so that patients don’t need to stay in so long.

‘We will ensure patients are discharged promptly and bring any hidden delays to the attention of the responsible body and the public.

‘Major changes will include:

• The temporary closure of the ground floor of Queen Mary’s House and the transfer of health services for elderly people to the Royal Free Hospital

• The transfer of paediatric in-patient work from the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital to Pond Street

• The change in use of several wards at the Royal Free Hospital.

‘No one will be made redundant as a result of these changes, although some staff will be retrained and redeployed.

‘We will substantially reduce our reliance on temporary staff.’

• Second news story

DAIMLERCHRYSLER STRIKE ACTION

OVER two hundred staff at the DaimlerChrysler warehouse and distribution centre in Milton Keynes will take strike action next Tuesday August 16.

They plan to intensify their campaign of industrial action over pay cuts and the ending of paid breaks.

Transport and General Workers Union regional industrial organiser John Street said he anticipated this would hit the supply of component parts from the warehouse hard as the action coincided with the weekly delivery from Germany.

‘Tuesday’s action should hit the operation at its most vulnerable point,’ said Street. ‘But we feel we have no alternative as the company has made no progress in resolving this issue of pay cuts.’

DaimlerChrysler have offered a three-year pay deal of 1.5 per cent in year one followed by inflation minus one per cent in the two subsequent years.

They are also looking to end paid breaks. This led to a vote in favour of industrial action and the start of a ‘work to rule’ from Friday July 1.

‘Our people have shown restraint over this issue but feel now is the time to make their point as the September registration date draws near,’ added Street.

‘These cars are top of the range in the car market and our people are top of the range in logistics and distribution,’ he continued.

‘If DaimlerChrysler wants to keep its reputation as a modern, go-ahead company it should think again about how it treats the workforce.’