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NHS Direct facing job losses

Leaked document spurs fears that over 1,000 jobs could go at telephone advice service

Up to 1,250 jobs could go at the telephone advice service, NHS Direct, as part of a government restructuring programme.

Reports, based on leaked documents in Nursing Times, suggest that talks are already underway about possible redundancies, the replacement of expensive trained nursing staff with cheaper administration call staff and attempts to promote the cheaper, popular web service.

Any damage to NHS Direct will increase pressure on the government and NHS trusts, who have already overseen 4,000 job cuts in recent weeks - in an attempt to control this year's £250 million-plus deficits in the health service.

NHS Direct itself balanced the books this year, but unions claim that restructuring is taking place to avoid inevitable future debts.

Public sector union, Unison, warned that the predicted changes would severely damage the service. A spokeswoman told the BBC: ìIf these cuts go ahead, the service will undoubtedly suffer.î

Head of external affairs for NHS Direct, Ann Grain, acknowledged that, in theory, the estimates were possible, but stressed that the organisation is trying to ìkeep them to a minimum.î

She told Pharmaceutical Marketing: ìAll any media outlet achieves by publishing inaccurate data is to worry and demoralise NHS Direct staff at an already difficult time.î

She previously explained the organisation's thinking to the BBC: ìWe have 54 call centres and when the website is the growth area we have to ask whether we need them all.î

ìEight of the leases [on call centres] are up, but at this stage we do not know whether all will close. It is difficult to say that the numbers the unions are saying won't happen at this stage because we do not have the firm proposals yet. That will come next month.î

ìWe are aiming to keep them to a minimum and are likely to recommend increasing the number of front-line staff answering calls.î

Nick Bradley, the Unison negotiator, said: ìThere is no doubt whatsoever that there will be a reduction in qualified staff. Some of the jobs that are going, are administration staff. But the vast majority are going to be nurses and call handlers.î

Patients, staff and unions will worry about the quality of the new service after a reduction of qualified nursing staff. Dr Laurence Buckman, deputy chairman of the BMA's GP committee, said: ìIt was meant to be a nurse-led advisory service and this is just not good enough.î

30th September 2008

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