23 Feb 2011

50,000 NHS job cuts hit mental health services

More than 50,000 NHS jobs will be lost over the next five years due to Government spending cuts, a campaign group claims, as Channel 4 News finds mental health services could be badly hit.

NHS cuts: health service jobs. (Getty)

Trades Union Congress-backed False Economy has found that the total confirmed, planned and potential job cuts across the NHS is 53,150, almost double previous estimates.

False Economy gathered the data through Freedom of Information requests from NHS trusts such as East Lancashire Hospital NHS Trust, which expects to lose 1,013 full-time equivalent staff by 2015, including 50 doctors and 270 nurses, midwives and health visitors; and Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, which is cutting 1,755 full-time posts in 2010-11 – nearly a nine per cent net reduction in one year, including 120 doctors and dentists, and 620 nurses.

The potential job cuts come as NHS trusts scramble to make £20bn efficiency savings.

Campaign groups are warning that the cuts, which trusts say will mainly come through natural wastage, will still inevitably hit patient care – but the Government accused the unions of “scaremongering”.

Patient care will be an early casualty. Dave Prentis, Unison General Secretary

Unison General Secretary Dave Prentis said: “Losing 50,000 health workers will hurt. It’s only a matter of time before the toll of bed shortages and ward closures mount up. With fewer nurses on wards, the return of long waiting lists, and a rise in cancelled operations, patient care will be an early casualty.”

What's the bottom line on NHS job cuts? FactCheck investigates

But the Department of Health said: “This is scaremongering from the unions. We do not recognise the figures. They make a huge number of assumptions, count natural wastage as cuts and make no distinction between bureaucrats and frontline staff. They also fail to factor in the many new organisations and frontline jobs that the NHS modernization programme will create.

NHS job cuts: mental health services (Getty)

“We promised to reduce NHS bureaucracy and plough this money straight back into patient care, and that is exactly what we are delivering. Since May, we have 2,500 more doctors, more nurses and more midwives – and 2,000 fewer managers.”

Mental health

But Channel 4 News has seen figures suggesting that some of the deepest cuts will hit some of the most vulnerable people – in mental health services.

In total, 6,346 jobs could be at risk across the 53 mental health trusts, with a high proportion of the jobs on the clinical, rather than management, side.

Campaigners said that it was seen as a “soft” cut because often people using mental health services either can not or dare not speak up.

This is a devastating blow to the already chronically under-funded services for people with a mental illness. Rethink Mental Illness Chief Executive Paul Jenkins

Rethink Mental Illness Chief Executive Paul Jenkins told Channel 4 News: “This is a devastating blow to the already chronically under-funded services for people with a mental illness. Mental health services are historically seen as an ‘easy’ cut and are too often first in the firing line.

“These job losses will impact on services which offer essential support to some of those most vulnerable people in our society, the very same people the government has repeatedly promised to protect. People with mental health problems already get a raw deal when it comes to accessing support from the NHS. Waiting times are longer, staff are over-stretched and provision is patchy and inconsistent. These cuts will make the gaping holes in the system even wider.

“These figures are just the tip of the iceberg and are a very worrying indication. We urge the government to act now before local trusts axe thousands more jobs.”

In response to a Freedom of Information request, West London Mental Health NHS Trust said it is considering a reduction in full time posts of 454 up to 2013, including 236 clinical staff – although the trust stressed these were provisional estimates without any official status at this stage, saying it would be wrong to use them as a guide to how many jobs would actually go. It is just one of many trusts in a similar situation.

A spokeswoman told Channel 4 News that, while they awaited news on budgets from local authorities, PCTs, regional and national commissioning groups, there were no firm decisions, but added: “Unfortunately, we anticipate that budgets will be cut and that as we strive to create efficiencies in our services at the same time as preserving high standards of patient care, some jobs will be affected…We repeat that no specific decisions relating to positions have been made, and we will of course prioritise the preservation of clinical roles so that quality of care in our frontline services is maintained.”

Read more: Channel 4 News Special Report on the NHS

Kent and Medway Mental Health Trust is in a similar position – it has outlined plans to cut its workforce by the equivalent of 560 full time staff, around 16 per cent of the workforce, by 2015.

These are, again, provisional cuts and the trust said they would be met through natural wastage and spread evenly between clinical and non-clinical posts.

A spokesman told Channel 4 News: “We know we must make efficiencies and reduce costs and we expect to have to make about a 5% efficiency year on year until 2015. With the majority of our costs being staff salaries it is likely there will be an impact on some posts…Our primary focus will therefore be on delivering services more efficiently, thus protecting front line services and focusing on reducing back office costs.”

'People will be suicidal'
On Monday, a mother whose child faces a six month wait for help from mental health services in Sheffield tackled Nick Clegg over the cuts.

Helen Basu Chaudhuri told the Deputy Prime Minister that people were suffering because of the £1m cuts to mental health service, and he pledged to personally intervene.

Channel 4 News has spoken to Deborah Woodhouse, Mrs Basu Chaudhuri's friend and co-founder of charity, Asperger's Children and Carers Together (ACCT Sheffield) about why they felt the need to speak out.

"We have our own experiences trying to access mental health services and we're obviously aware through them how difficult is to get any support," she said.

"Also, we have 200 families now in ACCT and often people with Asperger's suffer anxiety and mental health problems as well, and they really need support. They are also finding waiting times are going up.

"We have met Nick Clegg several times before and he has always been very sympathetic so Helen took the opportunity to see Nick. The Government committed not to cut from frontline services - well this is a frontline service, so it seems that their commitments are not being upheld.

"Also from experience, we know how very often families who are affected by mental health issues do not want to talk about it to protect their child. There are lots of people suffering but no one speaking out - that's why we felt we had to.

"It was for the families out there without a voice, and their children who are so vulnerable. You would never cut cancer services, there would be an outcry but cutting mental health services - some people will be suicidial, and they may die. They shouldn't be treated in this way."