NHS trusts across England are freezing staff recruitment in a bid to reduce rising deficits. As a result many newly qualified nurses are struggling to find jobs.
The cutback on nurses is the latest consequence of a financial crisis in the NHS that will have a profound impact on the health service.
“A number of trusts are in the red and the first step to address that is to freeze posts,” said Gail Adams, the Unison union’s head of nursing.
The union has heard of staff freezes in Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Norfolk, Norwich, Ipswich, London and the East Midlands.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is also aware of nursing posts at risk — with some nurses even facing possible redundancy.
Tim Curry, the RCN’s policy adviser, said the college had warned the department of health that the problem would compromise patient safety, particularly in the battle against hospital acquired infections such as MRSA.
Both Unison and the RCN believe the staffing problems are linked to the rising debts of NHS trusts. New Labour’s reforms have introduced a strict financial regime where hitting monetary targets becomes a central task and any shortfall leads to cuts.
The Healthcare Commission, the NHS watchdog, has revealed that nearly a quarter of NHS trusts were in the red at the end of the last financial year.
Ten of them recorded deficits of £10 million or more, with the most stretched overspending their budgets by more than 15 percent.
The deficits will get worse as a “payment by results” scheme is implemented, under which hospitals will be expected to provide care for a fixed national tariff.
In addition the new health pricing structure which gives out work to the private diagnostic and surgery centres drains money out of the NHS.
The latest crisis is a wholly foreseeable result of the move to make sections of the NHS compete against one another and against private providers. The next logical step is for some hospitals to “fail” and close — an outcome which former health secretary John Reid has said is possible.