Nurses Say 60,000 Frontline Jobs At Risk
Nurses have warned community care is at breaking point because of health reforms - and say more than 60,000 frontline jobs are at risk of being axed.
The Royal College of Nursing study said community nurses were among those facing cuts, which meant government plans to move care from acute hospitals to community sites were a "facade".
And the RCN said 61,000 posts were at risk of being slashed across the health service, including nursing and other jobs, with 26,000 already lost in the two years to April.
The loss of so many jobs showed the "weakness" of Government pledges to protect the front line, said the RCN ahead of its annual conference in Harrogate this week.
Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, speaking at the conference earlier, sparked muttering and some laughter in the audience when he sought to address concerns that thousands of NHS jobs faced the axe.
He insisted that health care would not be compromised by moves to make savings.
However, the RCN said community services covering district and mental health nurses and those who visit patients in their own homes were being "overburdened".
Cuts and underinvestment risked a "revolving door" for patients, who are discharged from hospital only to find there is no support in the community so have to be readmitted to hospital, it warned.
Fewer than one in 10 of 2,600 community nurses polled by the RCN said they had enough time to meet the needs of their patients, while nine out of 10 revealed their caseload had increased in the past year.
Dr Peter Carter, general secretary of the RCN, said: "Yet again, and despite numerous warnings, NHS organisations are making short-sighted cuts across the UK.
"Nurses are being stretched too thin, and many are approaching breaking point. Inevitably, patient care is going to suffer.
"We are now seeing a clear and worrying picture of a health service which is struggling. It is struggling to keep people out of hospital because of pressures on the community, and it is struggling to discharge them with support when they leave.
"Very soon, patients will be left with nowhere to turn. This is a revolving door for patients, but it also represents a false economy at a time when there is no money to spare."
The Government was urged to take the "stark" figures seriously.
Health Minister Simon Burns said official statistics show that there are 450 fewer qualified nursing staff in England than in September 2009, while the number of managers has been slashed by 15%.
He said the number of nurses to beds in hospitals is going up and in 2011-12, more than 2,300 community nurses and health visitors would be trained - double the previous year's figure.
He told Sky News: "What is important is that patients get the most appropriate care in the most appropriate setting.
"What we are doing to anticipate the increasing workload (from the shift of care to the community) is ensuring that more community nurses and health visitors are being trained."