A short time ago, I put in an FOI request to the 2 NHS Trusts nearest to me regarding planned job losses. The request was as follows:
In view of the government’s recent statements about NHS funding, I wish to know:
1) Whether the Trust is planning any reductions in staffing numbers
2) If so, in which types of staff and
3) How these are expected to be achieved
Well within the FOI Act limit of 20 working days, one of the Trusts, South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, has come back to me with answers. I’ve put a couple of requests in to this Trust before, and they always respond quickly – and pretty fully, as far as I can tell.
Here is the information they sent me:
1) As part of the organisation’s plans to meet productivity and efficiency savings, a small
reduction in staffing numbers have been identified throughout the financial year 2012/2013.
2) Staff Groups and reductions in numbers are identified in the table below.
3) Also included in the table is an indication of the level of investment the organisation is
planning to make over the same period. Reductions in staffing numbers will be met through
natural wastage (retirements, turnover etc). In most cases, the level of investment
expected in each staff group is greater than the planned reductions which will mean that the
majority of staff are likely to be re-deployed into other suitable alternative employment
within the Trust.
So ST actually gave me more information than I asked for – fair play to them, although you can see that it’s in their own interests to do so on this occasion.
At first glance, the figures look like good news. My own initial reaction was to think so. However, on reflection I’m not so sure. It’s obviously fantastic news that staff who’d otherwise be losing their jobs through ‘efficiency savings’ will be re-deployed into new areas of ‘investment’ within the Trust, and I’m delighted about that. It’s great news – unless you’re in a clinical/management function, in which case you’re not going to be moved, except out of the door.
However, all isn’t as rosy as it first seems. If you’ve visited this blog before, you’ll probably know I enjoy looking at figures (I know, I’m weird that way – but in my defence I only enjoy it when it’s about something very important!) and then looking at what’s more important: what’s going on behind the scenes, what are the figures telling us that might not be evident at a first glance.
STHNHSFT (it’s pretty long even as an acronym!) phrases its comment about investment tellingly:
‘In most cases, the level of investment expected in each staff group is greater than the planned reductions‘
saying that the investment will be ‘in each staff group’ to (in most cases) more than offset the reductions. That’s true, but also not quite. You don’t cut staff and then just reinvest in more staff. What this phrase means is that the hospital is going to invest in new functions, departments, wards or whatever – and then spread its resources and staff even more thinly to cover them, with only a marginal increase in numbers.
Being married to a nurse, I know that clinical staff are already stretched to breaking point in most wards & functions. While it’s great news that hard-pressed clinical staff aren’t going to lose their jobs, the news that they’re going to be even more stretched isn’t!
There’s also another downside to the figures above – the loss of administrative and clerical staff. I can well imagine that there are some managerial functions that aren’t good value for money – I’ve often bemoaned spending on layers of management instead of in additional clinical staff. However, while these figures may include some upper managers, the likelihood is that most will be ward clerks & clerical staff. The bane of most nurses’ life is paperwork, and since the Trust is planning to cut this kind of role, it can only mean expecting clinical staff to take up the slack – putting an even greater strain on clinical resources and forcing doctors & nurses to keep even more plates spinning to the likely detriment of patients. I’ll be putting in a further FOI request to get more details of exactly how those ‘admin/clerical’ job losses break down.
This kind of ‘rosy glow’ spin on the figures allows the government to claim its NHS ‘reforms’ and ‘efficiency savings’ are working, that they’re magically saving money without adverse effects for patients, and that they’re keeping their hollow promise to increase NHS spending – when in fact they may be spending on things that look good politically, but imposing an unmanageable burden on staff to be able to cover those additional ‘investments’ without additional colleagues.