Fears have been raised about the shake-up of Norfolk and Suffolk’s mental health services after it emerged that front-line doctor posts could be cut by more than a third.

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Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust launched a consultation amongst its staff last year after announcing plans to shed 500 posts and 20pc of its inpatient beds up until 2016.

Officials from a doctors’ union have now raised their concerns about the proposals after seeing a document from the trust that says consultant doctor numbers could be cut by a third and other grades of doctor being reduced by 40pc over the next three years.

The British Medical Association (BMA) said there was little information about the proposed service changes, which aims to cut 5pc out of its budget every year until 2016.

Peter Mitchell, regional co-ordinator for the union, said the “high” level of staff vacancies at the foundation trust was already causing concern and it was difficult to see the organisation providing the same level of service in the future.

He added that doctors were being hit hardest by the mental health trust’s plans and has called on members of the public to make their views known by the end of the 90 day consultation on January 21.

“The current level of staff vacancies is already causing problems and the loss of many more staff will exacerbate the situation. We are concerned that the trust is not being open about the job cuts and is not engaging in meaningful consultation.”

“The consultation with the public and patients is inadequate. The trust’s website does not give the full picture of the changes since it omits the detail of the job cuts. The website states that the trust is proposing ‘some service changes’, but these are significant changes,” he said.

A consultation document shows that the mental health trust is planning to cut 502 out of 2,128 posts and as of August last year there were 254 vacancies. 325 of the 502 job cuts are within Norfolk and Waveney.

The organisation is hoping to avoid any compulsory redundancies through natural wastage, voluntary redundancies, and retraining staff.

Bob Blizzard, Labour prospective parliamentary candidate for Waveney, yesterday described the shake-up as a “crisis in the making.”

“This shows it was right to mount a campaign when local staff blew the whistle on local cuts back in October. It is reckless of the government to impose 20pc budget cuts on the trust. In Lowestoft town centre just before Christmas people were signing the petition against the cuts at a rate of 5 per minute. We will now renew our efforts and I am writing to Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Health, calling on him to back off,” he said.

Dr Hadrian Ball, medical director at Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust and BMA member for 29 years, said the trust was facing up to having no increase in funding over the next three to four years.

“The trust, like the rest of the NHS, has no choice but to make radical changes in order to live within our financial means to ensure services are protected longer term. We appreciate this is a challenging task and many of our senior clinicians, including consultant psychiatrists, have either led or been actively involved in the various elements of the strategy. It is inevitable that such a strategy involves significant change to the workforce at every level,” he said.

People are being urged to comment on the proposals by emailing the trust at feedback@nsft.nhs.uk by 21 January. For more information, visit www.nwmhft.nhs.uk

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