Fears have been expressed for some of the region’s most vulnerable patients after it emerged more than 150 frontline NHS posts will be cut.
Nurses are set to be the worst hit, though a total of 867 employees will be affected as staff may be required to change their place of work or undergo different shift patterns.
Plans put forward for consultation will see wards close, services relocated and the development of new units as the trust aims to reduce costs by 20% over a five-year period.
Health chiefs have insisted that the changes will significantly improve patient services, but staff and unions have raised fears over employees’ safety and future staffing levels.
Glenn Turp, regional director for the Royal College of Nursing, said: “Trust management have told us that although they are endeavouring to redeploy all of the staff who are affected by the restructuring, they can not give guarantees that all staff will be redeployed, and as a consequence they have issued ‘advance notice of redundancy forms’ affecting around 170 staff.
“The fact remains that local NHS employers are in the invidious position of having to make huge cost savings that are not deliverable without having a negative impact on patient care, frontline staffing and inpatient activity.”
Thirteen new schemes will be introduced across the region covering all aspects of mental health, including older people’s services, psychiatric intensive care and male high dependency.
Community services will be enhanced so that fewer people will require hospital admission.
It is believed that more than 90 beds will be reduced and new ways of accessing treatment introduced for those with psychosis, non-psychosis, cognitive disorders and learning disability.
A mental health nurse, who has asked not to be named, said: “A number of challenging patients who used to be managed within the hospital setting are now going to have to be cared for in the community.
“Without significant additional investment in community services and staff, this will put significant pressure on both the patients themselves, and their families who will be increasingly relied upon to provide support when NHS staff are not available.
“For those patients who do not have a supportive family network, this may put both their health and safety at risk.
“The public should be concerned about the scale and the nature of this restructuring, because it looks as if community care is being delivered on the cheap. That has implications for everyone.”
The trust is currently working with staff on the proposals and a number of public consultation events have taken place. It is expected that the changes will come into force within the next two to three years.
A spokesperson for Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust said: “Service users, carers, the voluntary sector and our commissioners and local authorities have been involved for many months in developing our plans for mental health services across Northumberland, Tyne and Wear.
“The vast majority of our services are provided in the community with only 3% of our patients ever needing to go to hospital, yet we spend more than 50% of our resources for services on our inpatient beds.
“Our aim is to improve quality in both our inpatient and community services whilst at the same time meeting the cost savings required of us.
“In terms of our inpatient beds, the trust currently has over 650 beds and as an example, in the last three weeks we have used in the order of 470 beds each day.”