‘SLAP IN THE FACE’ – UNISON slams NHS Direct job cuts

Nurses rallying at Westminster last week demanded strike action to stop the job cuts
Nurses rallying at Westminster last week demanded strike action to stop the job cuts

THE sacking of nearly 800 staff was announced yesterday at NHS Direct – the NHS helpline created by the Blair government in 1997.

The mass sackings of NHS hospital staff also continued yesterday, with confirmation of plans to cut over 1,000 posts following the ‘merger’ of the Queen’s Medical Centre and Nottingham City Hospital.

NHS Direct said over a fifth of its call centres will close, after management was ordered to cut spending in order to ‘balance the books’.

The nurse-led telephone and internet advice service said £15 million would be saved by the cuts, which involve the closure of the Doncaster, York, Cambridge, Chester, Bolton, Scunthorpe, Preston, Chorley, Southport, Croydon, Brighton and Kensington call centres.

Health workers’ unions immediately condemned the cuts as short-sighted and ill-informed.

NHS Direct Chairman David Edmonds said the service was obliged to offer ‘value for money for our commissioners and taxpayers’.

NHS Direct bosses said 789 staff would go, 573 through redundancies and 216 through ‘natural turnover’.

Karen Jennings, head of health for UNISON, the biggest NHS trade union, said: ‘Large-scale job losses and the closure of sites is a slap in the face to staff who have worked hard from the start to build up the profile and reputation of NHS Direct.

‘I fear that these cuts are just the tip of the iceberg as the government’s love affair with the private sector and the private sectors love of off-shoring is well known.’

Gary Kirwan, Employment Relations Adviser at the Royal College of Nursing, said: ‘These plans are bad news for the nurses who lead on this successful service, and bad news for the many patients who benefit from the ready access to advice and support NHS Direct offers.’

UNISON also condemned the hiring of private financial consultants to help make cuts at Leeds City Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust.

The Trust plans to get rid of 430 staff and make £84 million savings over the next three years, whilst paying £100,000 a month to the advisors from PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Meanwhile, Nottingham’s two biggest hospitals have been told there will be several months of ‘consultation’, before decisions where more than 1,000 sackings will be made at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust.

The Trust, which came into being last month, said there would be a freeze on staff recruitment.

The British Medical Association (BMA) said it was ‘extremely worried’ by the cuts announced at NHS Direct and elsewhere in the health service.

• The BMA today raises concerns over discrimination against overseas doctors, see feature in tomorrow’s News Line.