Fears for Patient Care as Welsh NHS in Frontline Staff Faces Huge Cutbacks; Three-Year Drive to Cut Costs Causes Alarm
Byline: Madeleine Brindley
PATIENT care could suffer if thousands of experienced frontline staff are lost in a three-year NHS cost-saving drive, experts warn today.
The Welsh Assembly Government has said it expects the NHS to reduce the number of Agenda for Change staff who are classed as band five and above by 3% every year for the next three years.
The Royal College of Nursing in Wales has raised serious concerns about the devastating impact on patient care if nurses bear the brunt of the cuts.
But the Assembly Government told the Western Mail the cuts will come from across staff groups.
It is unclear whether the NHS is facing large-scale redundancies or whether the cuts will come via a recruitment freeze and natural wastage.
The seven new health boards are understood to have submitted plans to the Assembly Government outlining how they will achieve the target.
The annual operating framework (AOF) for the NHS in Wales, which outlines the main targets for the health service, states: "All organisations are expected to work towards achievement of a 3% reduction in staff in Agenda for Change bands five and above, with a reflected increase in staff in bands one to four per annum between 2010 to 2013 and a 10% increase in the proportion of staff providing services in a community setting, to be achieved between 2010 to 2013."
The cuts will not affect medical staff, but band five and above posts include registered nurses, qualified physiotherapists, community and hospital-based midwives, health visitors, sexual health advisers, paramedics and even chaplains.
Clinical support workers, who work alongside nurses on wards, healthcare assistants and maternity care assistants are classed as band two to four workers.
The AOF for 2010-11 adds: "Since 2000 the NHS has focused on increasing the size of the health care workforce.
"However, as financial investment in the NHS slows down, expanding capacity by simply increasing workforce numbers is no longer viable.
"This converges with a number of other factors including the demographic changes and the current age profile of the workforce. "This requires alternative approaches in the development of a sustainable workforce that is flex-ible enough in its work practices to manage the complex changes facing the NHS in Wales."
But Richard Jones, the Royal College of Nursing's deputy director in Wales, said the planned reductions will add to a growing recruitment crisis.
They come on top of a cut in student nursing places and an ageing 20,000-strong nursing workforce where the average age is 41 and more than a quarter of registered nurses are now over 50. About half the nurses working in Wales are band five or above.
"The research evidence shows that the more registered nurses there are, the shorter a patient's stay in hospital and patient mortality rates are lower," Mr Jones said. …