Health chiefs have defended their controversial plans to change mental health services in the North East.
As reported previously in The Journal, as many as 169 frontline NHS posts at Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust will be axed under radical changes to the way care is delivered.
Nurses are set to be the worst hit, though a total of 867 employees will be affected and more than 90 beds reduced as more care is delivered in the community.
Plans put forward for consultation will see wards close, services relocated and the development of new units as the trust aims to reduce costs.
Last night bosses insisted that the changes are needed and in the best interests of patients.
James Duncan, acting chief executive of Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We have listened very carefully to the feedback we have received from service users, carers and our partners in recent years so that we can play our part in providing the best modern mental health services for local people, designed around their needs.
“Building on this, we have embarked on a challenging transformation programme to ensure that our services continue to be high quality, are easier to access and provide the best value for money.
“It is important to remember that the vast majority of people who use our services are supported in the community, with only about 3% needing to spend time in hospital.
“Alongside changes to inpatient services, we have also seen significant improvements in mental health services locally.”
Each year since 2010, the trust has been required to make savings of approximately £12m while meeting the same levels of demand.
The trust says that during that time it has not made any frontline members of clinical staff redundant and is committed to ensuring that no one will lose their job through the changes proposed.
Yet staff have raised concerns that the planned changes will have a negative impact upon patients and their families.
A mental health nurse, who 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.”