Mark Blackwood

Last week, the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay National Health Service (NHS) Foundation Trust (UHMFT), initiated a 45-day consultation process with staff over plans to cut an unprecedented £30 million from its health care budget over the next two years.

The consultation process is bogus. The trust is going through the motions, having already indicated its intention to make “full use” of flexibility in staff terms and conditions  and “move directly into organisational change ” following the 45 day period. There will be a tidal wave of redundancies involving the shedding of some 260 health service posts in the coming months.

The consultation paper produced by UHMFT, which runs NHS hospitals in Barrow, Kendal and Lancashire, on which some 350,000 people depend, declares, “The trust needs to reduce its cost base by approximately 13 percent, becoming an organisation with a £250 million turnover. This translates to saving approximately £1 in every £8 that we currently spend.”

Speaking to the BBC, UHMFT Chairman John Cowdall stated that the trust would work to minimise job losses. His reassurances should be viewed with contempt. The full details of the cuts, which were published in a letter sent to staff and union representatives by local news outlet North West Evening Mail, represents a massive cull of jobs, including front line staff.

In the letter, Cowdall and the Trust’s Chief Executive Jackie Daniel announce their intention to cut 170 of the 1,797 full time nursing, midwifery and support staff (9.5 percent of the total), together with 20 estates and facilities staff and 40 administrative and clerical roles, once the consultation process has ended. An unspecified number of jobs in the “bank”, which provides cover for absences and shortages of staff, will also go.

Other proposals included in the consultation document are changes to job grades and shift work patterns, moving staff to other locations at the same time as reducing compensation for travel and changing the rules on payment protection and offers of alternative employment. More outsourcing of services is being considered.

In addition, the trust is planning to cut the length of time patients stay in hospital to allow it to eliminate 100 hospital beds at Furness General Hospital and the Royal Lancaster Infirmary, as well as closing Morecambe’s Altham Meadows dementia care centre. There are currently 17,607 people aged 65 and over in Lancashire with dementia and at least 317 people with dementia in Lancashire under the age of 65.

Former senior nurse at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary, Russell Dunkeld, left the trust in 2009 after blowing the whistle on conditions at the hospital following revelations about higher than normal mortality rates. He said cutting nursing posts was “absolutely deplorable” and that it would affect patient care. “The trust holds the card up and says that patient safety is top priority, but they go ahead and make cuts anyway. If anything goes wrong, they’ll just blame the nurses,” he added. “When I was working there, the situation was totally unsatisfactory. Staff could barely cope with the workload as it was.”

Union officials criticised the cuts, but offered no perspective to oppose them. Typical was Royal College of Nursing (RCN) union official Jonathan Bowker who said the trust’s 45 day consultation was “very worrying news” and the RCN was “extremely worried about how these cuts to staffing levels will affect patients and their care”. Its response to the UHMFT’s proposals is to a pathetic call for a proper risk assessment to be carried out.

What is happening in northwest England is occurring across the country. According to figures released by the RCN almost 25,000 NHS jobs have been cut within the last three years alone, including 4,800 nurses and 4,000 healthcare assistants, with a further 44,000 posts earmarked to go before April 2015. Whole swathes of health care provision are being cut including the closure of 32 Accident and Emergency (A&E) departments.  The new NHS Commissioning Board, which came into being on April 1 as a result of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 has outlined plans to close 32 of the existing 56 acute care networks (28 treating cancer and 28 for heart and stroke patients). Over 600 NHS acute care specialists face possible redundancy.

These cuts are being imposed as a result of the government plans to slash £20 billion (nearly 20 percent) from the NHS’s overall budget of £106 billion by 2015. It represents an ongoing assault against NHS workers jobs and employment conditions aimed at appeasing the demands of international finance at the expense of the working class.

The huge levels of job cuts currently being implemented across the NHS are already having a devastating impact on patient care, with many hospitals now struggling to provide a basic level of support, let alone the required health provision.

Rather than benefit the working population who make up the vast majority of society, Westminster’s relentless attack on the NHS is solely motivated by the desire to further destabilise the (NHS) with the ultimate goal being the eradication of free health care provision for the working class in the coming years.

The trade unions are playing a key role in enabling the government to push its measures through by restricting opposition to job losses, wage cuts and hospital closures on a local or regional basis, while organising token protests and petitions that they know will have no effect on the coalition government. The RCN’s main recommendation to its members is to come up with other suggestions to help employers reduce costs.

The unions have proven time and again that they have no intention to defend the NHS. No faith should be placed in the union bureaucrats to lead a fightback to defend jobs or free health care provision, for which the lives of millions depend. Only through the formation of independent rank and file NHS workers action committees, can the continuous betrayals of the union bureaucrats be defeated and the defence of jobs, conditions and services be carried out.