Government Minister Confronted Over Health Service Staff Reductions

A government minister has been grilled by Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner over plans to cut staff in the NHS.

Zeichner believes that the government and NHS authorities need to significantly rethink their policies with regard to staffing.

In particular, the Member of Parliament is concerned about the decision of Monitor and the NHS Trust Development Authority to reduce staffing in order to save money.

According to reports, the staffing order is contained in a letter Monitor and the TDA sent to every one of the 241 NHS trusts they supervise, which outlined the requisite measures intended to balance the NHS books.

This has certainly been a contentious decision, with many people believing that it is not only disrespectful and destructive for NHS staff, but will also ensure that the quality of service delivered is unsatisfactory.

Yet defenders of the scheme point to the fact that the NHS is expected to run up a deficit of around £2 billion by the end of this year, and the government has already demanded efficiency savings of £22 billion by the end of this decade.

Zeichner spoke in the House of Commons over the matter, and particularly made reference to Addenbrooke’s hospital, which is located within his Cambridgeshire constituency.

The Labour party politician suggested that the existing situation in the NHS is extremely serious and that government policy had been inadequate and even damaging.

“Addenbrooke’s, is one of the trusts with the most challenging deficits. Today, it is urging people not to attend accident and emergency, which it explains by saying that it is seeing more and more frail, elderly patients. We have a crisis in social care and health funding in Cambridgeshire. How can it possibly help hard-pressed staff at Addenbrooke’s to hear the instruction that numbers should be cut? Will the Minister assure me, patients and staff in Cambridgeshire that that diktat will be withdrawn?”

Responding to the accusations and questions of the Labour member, MP Ben Gummer, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Department of Health, indicated that it was impossible for him to provide the issuances that Zeichner sought.

“The important thing is to make sure that we channel money right to the frontline, which means doing so in his hospital, as in others,” he said. “It will sometimes mean finding efficiencies in individual trusts and commissioning groups, and making sure that the money is rediverted. I should say to the hon. Gentleman the problems at Addenbrooke’s go much further than A&E. The hospital is in special measures and there is much to put right. I am confident that will be managed, under the stewardship of the new chief executive, who has proven himself to be excellent.”

Cambridge University Hospitals (CUH), the trust which runs Addenbrooke’s and the Rosie Hospitals, is currently facing absolutely catastrophic financial difficulties.

The trust is one of many in the red at present, with CUH currently spending in excess of £1 million per per week more than its earns, with a predicted deficit of £60 million expected to be accumulated by the end of the fiscal year.

This issue is indicative of broader problems in the NHS, and it is increasingly clear that radical action and probably extra funding will be needed in the very foreseeable future.

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Political Argument Brewing Over Delay of Key NHS Staffing Report

An email exchange between the chief executive of the health watchdog the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has reportedly delayed reports on staff nursing levels in the NHS.

NICE had been ready to make this research public, but this process of revelation will now apparently been delayed.

The report is, in fact, already late, even before this latest intervention.

Experts at NICE had been due to publish their work on the safe levels of staffing in NHS A&E departments at the end of July this year.

But the decision to make their efforts public was reversed following an email exchange between Sir Andrew Dillon, NICE’s chief executive and the Health Secretary’s principal private secretary Kristen McLeod.

The precise content of this exchange has not been made public despite Freedom of Information requests, but it is known that the subject of this discussion was ensuring that the information related to the report should be held back until a later date.

The parliamentary Labour Party has already been critical of the Conservative party for intervening in Monitor reports, stating that the Government had prioritised its own party conference over critical information related to the NHS.

Work in this NHS England review had already been rolled into a wider report, but the country’s biggest nursing union raised concerns at the time that the move had been driven by “affordability”.

The reporting question is considered particularly important considering the current staffing levels in the existing health service.

Low staffing levels have been cited as an issue by inspectors at two-thirds of NHS hospitals.

Yet despite this apparently alarming picture, the NHS remains in the midst of a major cash crisis, with a £2 billion deficit in the hospital organisation projected by the end of the fiscal year.

The aforementioned Ms McLeod had emailed Sir Andrew stating: “I thought it would be helpful to confirm in writing our conversation. We agreed that it could be confusing for staff and the public if NICE were to release one piece of work on safe staffing now without any context and in isolation of any final guidance on safe staffing levels. However, we both agreed that this work should be put in the public domain as soon as is practically possible.”

Two minutes later Sir Andrew emailed senior members of staff at NICE confirming that the information would not be published as planned on 30th July.

At the time of writing, the Department of Health has declined to comment on the email exchange.

Hunt has stated that NICE will have the opportunity to review the final staffing guidance, currently being prepared by NHS England.

Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, Heidi Alexander, was predictably critical of the government’s conduct, and suggested that the full correspondence should be released into the public domain.

“If there has been any attempt by ministers or the Department of Health to influence NICE against the publication of this work then that is extremely worrying. If Jeremy Hunt really believes in transparency, he should now order the release of all this correspondence in full so that people can judge for themselves whether any inappropriate pressure was put on NICE.”

A NICE spokesperson said: “We do not believe the emails show an inappropriate attempt to influence NICE and Andrew Dillon against publishing the safe staffing evidence. The Department of Health expressed its views and these were taken into consideration.”

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