Regulators tell NHS trusts to look at cutting staff to reduce deficits

Monitor and Trust Development Authority tell struggling trusts to include headcounts in their action plans

NHS trusts in England have been told to cut back on staff to reduce their deficits, raising concern about safe nurse staffing and nurses' job security. 

Regulators Monitor and the Trust Development Authority (TDA) have instructed trusts struggling with their finances to reduce their 'financial distress' significantly if they want to qualify for a slice of a £1.8 billion bailout fund, available from April.

A letter from TDA deputy chief executive Bob Alexander and Monitor managing director of provider regulation Stephen Hay said the two organisations will meet 'challenged providers' to agree action, including headcount reduction. This seems to mark a departure from the policy priority of increasing staffing levels, in response to the Francis report into care failures at Mid Staffs.

Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said: 'This just beggars belief when we get reports in the past week claiming NHS agency staff spend has increased to £4 billion.

'The real issues are to do with NHS funding not meeting the demands of the health service, the lack of workforce planning resulting in a shortage of trained healthcare professionals, and the NHS scouring the world to recruit much-needed staff at the same time as student bursaries are demolished.'

RCN head of policy Howard Catton said: 'It seems the lessons from recent history about the implications of cutting frontline staff as a short-term fix to save money are still to be learned.

'It’s the worst kind of short-termism. Fewer staff dealing with more and more patients will only lead to longer and completely preventable hospital stays. It all makes little financial sense.'

A trust would have to lose 25 nurses to save £1 million, according to the King’s Fund think-tank. The NHS deficit is projected to reach £2.2 billion by March. 

A TDA spokesman said: 'We are supporting the NHS to ensure organisations have the right amount of staff with appropriate skills in permanent jobs rather than having to rely on expensive agency staff to plug long-term gaps. 

'Guidance to ensure safe staffing levels will continue to apply across the NHS.'


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