Nursing union claims hospitals are employing fewer senior nurses to save money (From The Northern Echo)
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Nursing union claims hospitals are employing fewer senior nurses to save money
MORE than 450 acute and general hospital beds have vanished from the North-East health service in the last three years, according to a state of the NHS review carried out by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).
The RCN says today that it is getting more and more difficult to maintain the same level of care across the region, while operating in the current climate of cost efficiency targets imposed by central Government.
As well as the reduction in beds - going down from 11,475 in 2010 to 11,022 now - the RCN is concerned that some hospital trusts appear to be employing more unqualified and junior nursing staff at the expense of more senior nurses.
Glen Turp, RCN regional director, said he believes that the main motivation is to cut costs.
The hospital trusts which have seen the biggest falls in bed numbers are North Tees and Hartlepool and Gateshead Healthcare.
In 2010 the North Tees and Hartlepool Trust had 674 acute and general beds but by the beginning of 2013 this had fallen to 601. Gateshead fell from 597 to 470 over the same period.
However, some hospital trusts have seen an increase in beds, including County Durham and Darlington - up from 988 to 1,073 - South Tees Hospitals - up from 1,322 to 1,450 - and the Newcastle Hospitals - up from 1,712 to 1,833.
On the subject of nurses, in March 2010 there were 217 band seven (the most senior) nurses at the North Tees and Hartlepool Trust. By the beginning of this year this had fallen to 189.
The number of band sixe nurses have also fallen from 616 from 2010 to 599 at the beginning of this year and band five nurses have fallen from 1,107 to 1,017 over the same period.
Meanwhile, the number of healthcare assistants employed by the trust went up from 156 to 187.
The RCN survey also highlighted that 11 services worth £8.3m, which used to be provided by NHS organisations - from the drug and alcohol service in Darlington to sexual health services on Teesside - have been awarded to private providers since 2010.
It also found that NHS trusts in the region had paid out £182m to overtime and agency staff.
Mr Turp said: "We are now seeing clear evidence that some trusts are changing their skills mix, so that they have more junior and unregulated staff, and fewer senior nurses with the right education, training and experience to deliver a safe and hight quality service.
"We are anxious that the main driver for this may be financial, with the increasing pressure that trusts are coming under centrally to deliver unrealistically large financial savings."
The survey coincided with official figures which showed that the NHS has lost more than 5,000 nurses nationally in just three years.
Julie Gillon, chief operating officer for the North Tees and Hartlepool Trust, said bed reduction was part of an initiative to provide care closer to the patient.
"We believed that by encouraging people to live healthier lifestyles, take up screening and trying to prevent people getting ill in the first place this would result in a reduction in demand for hospital beds," she said.
She said the trust was "constantly reviewing" nursing levels.
A spokesman for NHS England said: "The slight reduction in the number of beds no doubt reflects the success of this work to move services out of hospital and into the community, providing better care with more convenient and easy access for patients."
He said it was up to each trust to establish "a safe and competent workforce." and added that the NHS also has a responsibility to obtain the best value for money for the taxpayer.
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