Page last updated at 13:42 GMT, Saturday, 3 April 2010 14:42 UK

Nursing union in Wales fears cuts of staff

Generic picture of nursing staff
There are worries that there could be cuts in nursing numbers

Concern has been raised about a drop in key NHS staff in Welsh hospitals after efficiency targets came into force.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) says Welsh Assembly Government targets will see a reduction in staff of 3% every year for the next three years.

It claims it could equate to a cut of around 739 nurses every year.

But the assembly government says the cuts will not focus on one group of workers and will apply to staff who are in band five and above.

The Annual Operating Framework (AOF) sets out the expectations of the NHS in Wales within any one financial year.

It includes national targets, efficiency and productivity measures which organisations must deliver by March of the following year.

In this year's AOF, the assembly government says it "recognises that the targets will be stretching".

It says health organisations will need to look at the remodelling of services.

The workloads of nursing staff are already substantial
Richard Jones, RCN

But the RCN says it is concerned that front line nursing services will be compromised under the AOF.

Richard Jones, the RCN's deputy director in Wales, said he was concerned registered nurses of grade five would be affected.

He said there were around 24,500 nursing staff in Wales.

"Research shows that if you are nursed by a grade five nurse, your stay in hospital is shorter and the mortality rate is lower.

"The workloads of nursing staff are already substantial.

"I really want reassurance from the assembly government that this objective of 3% is not going to affect front line services and that quality of care is maintained.

The annual operating framework target is not aimed at reducing a particular staff group and so will not solely be made from nursing staff
Welsh Assembly Government

"For me frontline services are sacrosanct," he said.

The assembly government said: "There are now more nurses and other health professionals working in the NHS than ever, thanks to investment by the assembly government, which is improving patient care and the working environment for staff."

The spokesperson said the health minister had met the RCN.

"The annual operating framework target is not aimed at reducing a particular staff group, and so will not solely be made from nursing staff," continued the spokesperson.

"It is intended to support NHS organisations in developing a workforce that is fit for the demands of modern health care and provides safe, efficient and effective care to all patients."

'Patient safety'

Peter Black, Welsh Liberal Democrat health spokesman said: "If we are going to be cutting back on qualified staff it could compromise patient safety and operational requirements.

"We could find ourselves in a situation where waiting times increase or the pressure on existing staff grows with the result that they are much more heavily worked and find it difficult to cope over a longer period of time.

"For some time workforce planning in the NHS has had problems and that must be addressed by the assembly government."

Welsh Conservative health spokesman Andrew T Davies said: "Any reduction in the number of experienced, qualified staff will clearly have a direct impact on frontline health services.

'Skilled workforce'

"Agenda for Change was all about respecting and encouraging people to develop their careers so we would have a higher skilled workforce to meet the needs of patients.

"While this is all down to cost pressures it flies totally in the face of what we should be trying to develop.

"We should be rewarding people who are prepared to do in-service training so patient outcomes are improved with shorter stays in hospital."

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