Patient care fears as 100 NHS jobs go

MARK NICHOLLS Mental health chiefs last night announced that they were cutting 100 jobs after their funding was slashed by £2m a year, sparking fears that patient care will be affected.

MARK NICHOLLS

Mental health chiefs last night announced that they were cutting 100 jobs after their funding was slashed by £2m a year, sparking fears that patient care will be affected.

Cuts to services are now a threat after the troubled Norfolk Primary Care Trust (PCT) - fighting a £47m deficit - slashed the cash it gives to the body providing mental health services in the area as it struggles to break even.

The cash blow for Norfolk and Waveney Mental Health Trust follows a £5m reduction in its PCT funding last year, which saw 40 job lost, services streamlined and costs trimmed.

Now the mental health trust, which has an annual budget of £80m, has been hit with a new financial blow for the 2007-08 year.

It says that the 100 jobs will, where possible, be taken from vacancies to keep redundancies to an absolute minimum but are likely to be across a range of areas -but health union Unison fears that significant redundancies will be inevitable.

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The mental health trust has balanced its books for the last seven years but must now cut its own spending because of financial difficulties elsewhere in the NHS in the county.

Chief executive Pat Holman said the mental health trust was working to cut costs without reducing the level of its services, ahead of the trust's ambitions to achieve foundation status.

The trust will find out on April 1 if it will become an NHS foundation trust, which will give it more control over its own financial affairs and in future be able to negotiate tough contracts, with longer notice periods, with organisations, such as the PCT, that commissions services from it.

Ms Holman said: "We have to be confident that we can provide our services within the income we receive. We also have to be sure that we are sufficiently competitive, so that our commissioners want to invest in our services.

"Wherever waste can be reduced, only effective procedures used and more resources shared, we can bring down the cost of our services without reducing the quality."

In a bid to lower costs, the mental health trust is continuing its plans to change services for older people by making care available closer to their homes, improving the service for children and adolescents, reducing the costs of running various buildings owned or leased by the trust and reviewing the structure of some services.

Unison mental health branch secretary Lynn Wall said: "Staff are very concerned. We will work with the trust over voluntary redundancies and we are aiming for there to be no compulsory redundancies, but there are not enough vacancies left.

"We are in discussions with our regional office over how we can minimise the impact of redundancies. But this will impact on patient care, whichever way you look at it."