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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 May 2006, 14:30 GMT 15:30 UK
1,000 NHS workers protest at cuts
Nurses at Westminster rally
Nurses protesting outside Westminster
More than 1,000 NHS workers have protested against health service job cuts in a mass lobby of MPs.

The rally comes as NHS Employers insisted the number of redundancies is far less than the 13,000 post cuts that nursing unions are predicting.

Nurses, midwives, cleaners and other workers from 14 health unions and royal colleges called for an end to the cuts.

Beverly Malone, of the Royal College of Nursing, said the protesters were "pro-patient", "not anti-government".

The protesters want deficit-hit health trusts to be given more time to bring their balance sheets back into the black.

In the interests of patients and staff trusts do need more time to deal with their financial problems
Frank Dobson
Former health secretary

But the NHS Employers, which represents health managers, says a survey it carried out shows that, even where trusts have announced post cuts, the actual number of redundancies will be relatively small.

Health trusts reported losses of between 60 and 1,000, but where they gave details almost all said "only a handful of staff" were likely to be made redundant.

'Country-wide problems'

But Dr Malone said every nurse at the rally had felt the "devastating impact" of financial deficits.

"It is the same dark and depressing picture up and down the country - 13,000 NHS posts designated for elimination in the last six months alone, debts rocketing towards 1 billion and patients suffering as a consequence."

Patricia Hewitt on a hospital visit
The health secretary has been jeered and heckled over the cuts

She said the slow handclapping and barracking delegates gave Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt at the RCN's recent annual conference was driven out of "frustration and fear" and the desperation to be heard.

Workers from NHS trusts facing financial problems across the country joined Thursday's event, including staff from Gloucestershire where the latest cuts were announced.

Karen Jennings, head of health at Unison, said the health workers wanted to meet MPs face-to-face to press home the impact of cuts and closures on patient care and staff morale.

'Last resort'

But in a letter to MPs, health minister Lord Warner said the picture of the NHS painted in the media was not an accurate reflection.

He said that while some compulsory redundancies would take place across the NHS, most job cuts would be achieved through the annual turnover of staff, recruitment freezes and a reduction in the use of agency staff, and that compulsory redundancies were "a last resort".

The demonstrating NHS staff later heard a speech by former Health Secretary Frank Dobson.

He told BBC News the two major hospitals in his north London constituency, the Royal Free and the University College London, had combined deficits of 53 million.

He added: "In the interests of patients and staff, trusts do need more time to deal with their financial problems."

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