Nurses’ leaders have published a snapshot of the state of the NHS in the North East, charting changes to a wide range of services.
The Royal College of Nursing northern region’s analysis is the result of Freedom of Information requests sent to NHS services throughout North East and Cumbria health trusts.
Changes to bed numbers, skills mix, staffing, redundancy payments, overtime payments, as well as the results of NHS service tenders are laid bare.
Findings show that, while some trusts are doing their best not to cut nursing jobs in the face of challenging financial targets, others are struggling to cope.
Trusts in the North East and Cumbria have paid more than £182m in agency and overtime payments between 2010 and the end of the 2012 financial year.
RCN northern regional director Glenn Turp said: “The picture is complicated by the fact that the majority of our hospital trusts merged with community and district nursing trusts in 2012, so while it looks like some trusts’ nursing numbers have gone up, all that has really happened is that a number of smaller trusts have merged to become larger trusts with more employees.
“However, we are now seeing clear evidence that some trusts are changing their skills mix, so that they have more junior and unregulated staff, and fewer senior nurses with the right education, training and experience to deliver a safe and high quality service.
“Cuts to the frontline and the skills mix are particularly apparent in those trusts that did not take over the operation of community nursing in 2012. It will seem like a false economy to many that between end of fiscal 2010 and end of fiscal 2012, trusts in our region spent almost £26m on redundancy and severance payments.
“And while all trusts are being put under increasing financial pressure from central government, some are clearly in a better position than others.” A number of North East trust have reduced their bed base, while others have cut nursing staff. The Department of Health said health trusts were the most appropriate bodies to determine staffing numbers and care for patients. A spokesman said: “Ultimately hospitals are best placed to decide how many nurses are needed to care for patients.
“Nursing leaders have been clear that hospitals should publish staffing details and the evidence to show the numbers are right for the services they deliver.
“In future, there will be a Chief Inspector of Hospitals who will take action if trusts are found to be compromising patient care by not having the right number of staff on wards.”