Cuts Put Nurses' Frontline Role In Peril

There has been a stark warning sounded today over the impact of the Department of Health's recently announced 2% cut in the Health and Social Care pay bill.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Director of Nursing in NI, Janice Smyth, (pictured) said it was paramount that the health trusts engage with those delivering frontline services, as they know best where the efficiencies can be made.

She said that the Health Department's policy of no longer using bank or agency staff means that increasingly nurses are not being replaced when gaps appear in a rota due to sickness or maternity.

Last month, the local RCN chief was scathing in her comments about a survey of health staff that showed the extra hours nurses were already putting in: "According to the survey, 51% of staff work beyond their contracted hours each week, the vast majority (89%) because they want to be able to provide the best level of patient care they can.

"Over half (52%) of all staff feel that they can't meet all the competing demands upon them and less than a quarter (24%) believe that there are enough staff for them to be able to do their job properly.

"More than half (56%) say that they are overloaded because of staff shortages and more than one-third (36%) have suffered work-related stress in the previous 12 months," she said, a view that has been underlined today with her local plea for better support for 'frontline' services.

As it launches its UK-wide Frontline First campaign to highlight the threat to health and social care services, the RCN said that the cut in the HSC pay bill announced by the DHSSPS could mean that 1,300 jobs will be lost in NI - to include around 500 nursing posts.

She said today that the service in NI is already committed to finding £700 million in 'efficiency savings' by March 2011 from a current annual budget of £3.6 billion.

In addition, a further cut of £126 million has been imposed on health and social care by the Northern Ireland Executive, with additional reductions widely anticipated as a consequence of the Coalition Government's revised expenditure plans.
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Continuing rising demand upon the service has, according to the Health Minister, effectively added a further £50 million to these financial pressures.

Northern Ireland Director Janice Smyth continued: "We are realistic about the need to find financial savings in the health and social care service. Frontline nurses know where efficiencies can be made and trusts should therefore engage with staff to ensure better care.

"The DHSSPS has already imposed severe restrictions upon the use of overtime, bank and agency staff, and has stated that when posts fall vacant, 'they will only be filled if it can be established that they are essential for the purpose of providing priority services'.

"The impact of the financial crisis in the Health and Social Care service is also being felt by RCN members working in the independent sector. Trust funding constraints are causing a downturn in bed occupancy, which means that some older people may not be receiving the care that they require.

"Equally, some intermediate care patients have missed their target discharge dates because future care arrangements can not be funded, causing bed-blocking and further distress to patients, carers and relatives.

"The current financial position of the health and social care service is extremely serious. Any further cuts to funding could mean that the service will become unsustainable and will undoubtedly have severe consequences for frontline patient care," she said.

Despite Westminster government promises to protect frontline services, RCN said jobs were being cut or frozen and people who retire were not being replaced.

The number of jobs at risk has doubled over the past two months. The RCN believes 47 NHS jobs are currently being axed every day.

Chief Executive of the Dr Peter Carter said today: "We are increasingly hearing from our members about short term slash and burn supposedly quick fixes to problems, which in a very short space of time stack up to significant problems."

The RCN has launched a new UK-wide campaign to expose NHS budget cuts that are harming patient care, find waste in the NHS and champion nurse-led innovations. 'Frontline First' will empower all RCN members to share what is going on at their workplace and help the college to defend care, services and jobs.


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