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Last Updated: Friday, 31 March 2006, 04:06 GMT 05:06 UK
Expert nursing jobs under threat
By Adam Brimelow
BBC News Health Correspondent

Specialist nurses are central to plans for expanded community care
Nursing unions and health charities have warned that specialist nurses face cuts in the latest wave of NHS savings.

Some NHS trusts have identified them as a "soft target", they say.

Specialist nurses are senior staff with expertise in diabetes, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, or a range of other long-term problems.

The warning comes as a BBC survey suggests the overall health service deficit in England is 700m out of a total budget of 76bn.

We're a soft target when savings have to be made
Vicky Gutteridge
MS specialist nurse

The nurses thought to be under threat are mainly community-based and have a central role in the government's policy of encouraging more people to be cared for out of hospital and in the home.

Some are part-funded by charities alongside the NHS, but the Royal College of Nursing says a lot of these posts are being downgraded or closed.

Howard Catton, head of policy at the Royal College of Nursing, said that recent announcements of NHS job cuts across the country show specialist nurses are being targeted.

"Nurses involved in infection control, palliative care, rheumatology disorders or multiple sclerosis - those posts are being identified as at risk of redundancy and removed in order to help hospitals achieve financial balance."

'Very disturbing'

Vicky Gutteridge has been a multiple sclerosis specialist nurse in Wessex Region for three years.

She said her job was rescued recently when the MS Society stepped in with extra funding.

She said that if her role had gone, her patients would have been left stranded - but that is not always appreciated.

"We're a soft target when savings have to be made," she said.

"And for a lot of people neurology has been a Cinderella service, and people with MS have often been Cinderella's within that Cinderella service."

Sharon Haffenden, from the MS Society, which has put 4m into co-funding projects, said it was considering asking the health service for its money back.

'Heart of plans'

"I have to say that we will need soon to look at reclaiming the money from PCTs," she said.

"It's probably going to be too expensive for us to pursue legal action, but this is a lot of money that's been paid out from the charity to the health service over the last three to five years, and to see that under threat in the way that it is now is really very disturbing."

Nicola Russell of the MS Trust said: "We are worried that MS may be seen as a soft target for cost-cutting because it has a lower profile than some other diseases.

"It is outrageous that people with MS, who are already vulnerable, are being penalised for shortfalls within the NHS."

Other charities, including the Parkinson's Disease Society, Macmillan Cancer Relief and the British Society for Rheumatology have also expressed concern.

A spokesman for the Department of Health in England said specialist nurses will have a key role in providing care closer to patients' homes, especially for people with long-term conditions.

"We would expect trusts to have such nurses at the heart of their plans," he added.

Health trust 'to remain' in debt
28 Mar 06 |  Southern Counties
NHS cuts 'will hit patient care'
25 Mar 06 |  England

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