RCN warns of jobs at risk at NHS Direct

Published on Friday, 27 January 2012 14:53
Posted by Scott Buckler

The Royal College of Nursing has warned that as many as 300 frontline staff at NHS Direct could lose their jobs. The organisation plans to introduce new roster arrangements to cut costs as they begin  moving towards the new NHS 111 services, due to be rolled out through this year and next

This follows an extensive consultation period with the RCN and other trade unions, who oppose the changes. Those staff who are not able to work on the revised shift patterns will be dismissed with the option to reapply for the remaining shifts. This will include staff who have flexible working arrangements, such as carers of young children and those who currently work fewer than 15 hours per week.

Commenting on the changes, RCN Chief Executive & General Secretary Dr Peter Carter said: "What we are seeing here is a clear example of quality being compromised in a bid to make short-term savings. NHS Direct has developed over recent years into a service that many patients really value. Nurses have led the way in making this a service which can offer reassurance and advice that on many occasions avoids GP referrals and unnecessary trips to hospital."

Evidence suggests that expert advice provided by NHS Direct has kept one and a half million people out of A&E;, and saved the NHS £213 million a year. It is the RCN’s concern that patients, who can often be extremely worried or distressed, will receive a stripped-back service from NHS 111, with more being advised to dial 999 or go to A&E;, which is far more costly.

Dr Carter continued: "We know that NHS Direct is in a difficult position at the moment. However, many of the staff have worked there for years and are naturally very worried and upset about the future. NHS Direct also employs higher numbers of disabled workers who may not be able to cope with the physical demands of a hospital ward, yet are still able to provide sound clinical advice to patients. If these workers lose their jobs they may struggle to find future employment within a health care setting and as a result the NHS will lose their expert skills."

NHS Direct is not the only organisation tendering to deliver NHS 111 services. The new system will allow private and GP out-of-hours providers and the ambulance service, among others, to deliver this service.

Commenting on this, Dr Carter said: "Not only will this fragmentation lead to yet more postcode lotteries across the country, we will also lose the highly beneficial national picture that NHS Direct statistics provide. I would urge the board of NHS Direct to take the time to think through this process and while they may be under pressure to make savings, there could be other means of doing so. Equally, the Government would do well to look at the long-term cost effectiveness of NHS Direct and the service it provides, rather than attempting to steamroll in a cheaper alternative that compromises patient care. The RCN will be supporting all members employed by NHS Direct who are currently going through this distressing upheaval."


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