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Hospitals cuts ‘put patient care at risk’
BED-blocking wards could be closed and jobs have been lost because of £49m of cuts to the county’s hospitals budgets.
The Oxford University Hospitals Trust (OUH) must make £160m of savings – about five per cent of its total budget – over the next four years.
OUH chief executive Sir Jonathan Michael outlined plans to cut the budget by £49m over the next year alone in an interview with the Oxford Mail in June.
Last night it was revealed this will include £3.6m saved by closing wards, £2.5m worth of job cuts including compulsory redundancies and £3.2m from changes to nursing rotas on adult wards.
But fears have been raised the swingeing cuts could put patient care into jeopardy.
Kelvin Aubrey, regional organiser for Unison Health, said the hospital’s hand had been forced by a Government drive to slash £20bn from the cost of the NHS.
He added: “It’s difficult for all concerned.
“The NHS has never been faced with cuts of this scale.
“If you continually take resources out of the NHS it eventually boils down to the people who are doing real jobs.
“This is going to have an impact on patient care.”
The £2.5m job losses – part of a ‘high cost post review’ – has already seen 47 management posts lost.
This includes four compulsory redundancies and 20 voluntary redundancies.
The trust said the remaining 23 posts have been removed through normal turnover and vacancy. That’s from a workforce of about 11,000.
The OUH says those are the only job losses included in the £49m savings plan, so frontline medical staff have been protected so far.
The ward closures are expected to hit the ‘escalation wards’, set up to help with a surge in the number of ‘bed-blockers’.
These are patients who were well enough to leave hospital, but whose on-going care had not yet been arranged.
This is expected to save £3.6m but the OUH has yet to confirm which ones will go or how many.
June’s bed-blocking figures showed 152 people were left stranded in beds needlessly, up from 135 in May, though the countys’ health watchdog is expecting the July figures to show a fall.
Dr Peter Skolar is chairman of the county’s watchdog the Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee. He believed the hospitals would not close the wards unless they could.
He said: “What would they do with the patients? They wouldn’t just turn them away. The numbers are coming down, and they are being moved out of the JR.”
Nursing rotas on the adult ward will see a two-hour handover ‘window’ for nurses on early and late shifts, reduce to one hour in a move the trust said will save £3.2m. Currently night and day staff have a longer period where they both work at the same time.
But nurse and Unison member Ian McKendrick warned: “This means there will be fewer nurses around for chunks of the day who’ll be able to respond to patient need.
“And once people start rushing around, the potential for mistakes increases.
“There will come a point where we won’t be able to deliver.”
Ben Wealthy, from the Patient’s Association watchdog, said: “It is rapidly becoming clear that the Governments huge £20bn efficiency savings are starting to hit trusts hard.
“Our helpline is receiving more and more calls from patients who are telling us about longer waiting times and less operations taking place.
“We have got to stop slicing away at frontline services and closing wards – this is time and again compromising care.”
Mark Mansfield, OUH’s finance director, said it was committed to providing the highest standard of care to patients.
He added: “Every potential saving is looked at in terms of its impact on the quality and safety of services and there is a formal process for this which involves senior clinical colleagues and is in line with national guidelines.”