Thousands of NHS jobs are being cut despite government promises to protect front-line services, a union has warned.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has identified nearly 10,000 posts lost or at risk of being lost in England – double the number from two months ago.
The RCN said this was just the start of what was shaping up to be a “crude” round of cuts that would harm patient care, the BBC has reported.
While the NHS budget is protected, the health service has been told to save up to £20bn by 2014.
But RCN chief executive Peter Carter said the latest findings suggested the NHS was simply falling back on “crude” and “short-sighted” cuts.
He said: “Our figures expose the myth that front-line services will be protected. If this trend for cuts continues, the NHS will soon be straining at the seams.
“Local NHS organisations appear to be adopting a slash and burn approach to jobs, which is shocking and will have a disastrous effect not only on the quality of care provided but on the range of treatments that are available.”
Most of the cuts involve recruitment freezes or not replacing staff who retire, although some trusts are known to be making redundancies. It is believed both nurses and doctors are being targeted, along with a range of support staff.
Health minister Anne Milton said NHS managers were wrong to be cutting staff. She said: “I understand the RCN’s frustration and concern. Many trusts are living in the past and interpreting efficiency savings as budget and service cuts. This is wrong. It is about doing more for less.”
But Nigel Edwards, of the NHS Confederation, which represents managers, said job losses were inevitable, although he agreed they should be part of a range of efficiency measures.
“NHS organisations are looking closely at where further savings can be made, and in some cases this may mean a decision not to fill certain posts or reduce headcount.”