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NHS Employers warns against 'slash and burn' cuts

By Gareth Iacobucci

Mass-scale redundancies in the NHS are a ‘blunt and expensive' cost-cutting tool that could seriously derail attempts to save £20 billion by 2014, NHS Employers has warned.

At its annual conference today, the organisation urged NHS workforce leaders to commit to exploring a full range of alternative options before considering staff redundancies, warning that a ‘slash and burn' approach risked disengaging staff and leaving a deficit of skills.

It comes after health minister Mike O'Brien last month threatened to ‘name and shame' PCTs who carry out crude cuts of frontline services.

A new report 'Leading the NHS workforce through to recovery', launched today at the conference, says high morale and a skilled workforce are critical to the NHS's long-term health as it attempts to emerge from the recession.

Sian Thomas, director of NHS Employers, who presented the report, urged NHS bosses not wield the axe hastily, and revealed concern from chief executives that the NHS ‘currently lacks enough staff with the right talent and skills to lead it through recovery'.

Ms Thomas said: ‘NHS leaders must explore every alternative before making redundancies to ensure the NHS remains in good health as the economy improves. It needs to retain a skilled workforce to ensure that quality patient care does not suffer as we overcome the consequences of significantly reduced funding.'

‘The NHS must avoid this impacting on morale and increased workload pressures in order to improve patient safety and continue to improve clinical outcomes at the front line level.'

She added: ‘The challenge for NHS leaders is to resist redundancies on a large scale and to make the most of natural turnover, eliminate waste and duplication and increase productivity. The NHS has shown it can innovative to save money but the spread of improvement is not yet occurring quickly enough.'

The report says an ageing population, rising public expectations and the impact of the recession on unemployment will increase demands on the NHS.

It warns that while increasing retirement among ageing NHS staff has the benefit of helping reduce staff levels without redundancies, it will also of remove vital experience that is of great benefit to patients.

The report makes ten recommendations to NHS leaders for economic recovery (see below).

The ‘employer's checklist for economic recovery'

- Start planning now
- Lead by example
- Think staff engagement
- Undertake a workforce review
- Take a whole system approach
- now the type of talent you need
- Harness effective partnership working
- Make the most of levers already in the system
- Understand the balance of pay and reward
- Cooperate with partners in your wider community

NHS Employers warns against 'slash and burn' cuts

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