Union warns 150 hospital beds set to close

South Essex hospitals will “lose 150 beds” and “150 staff will be let go”, according to a union which has raised concerns over the impact on care.

In a damning statement yesterday, Unison claimed that short-staffing and a lack of available beds is “already putting the Mid and South Essex NHS Trust under severe strain”.

Following a meeting with union reps this week, Unison claims it was told the trust plans to launch a “voluntary severance scheme” to “cut 150 non-frontline clinical posts”.

On Thursday, it was revealed that Southend Hospital’s Stambridge ward, which used to treat patients with diabetes, would be moved and Unison has now claimed the 27-bed Bardfield ward, at Broomfield Hospital will close.

Unison claims senior managers at Basildon, Southend and Broomfield hospitals have “no idea where the remaining 96 beds will be cut from”.

The trust has insisted “no staff will lose their jobs as a result of bed changes” but confirmed a voluntary severance scheme is taking place.

It added “more beds will be provided on a different ward” at Southend Hospital.

Joyce Aldridge

Joyce Aldridge, Unison Basildon, Southend and Mid Essex Health branch secretary, said: “Short-staffing and a lack of beds is already putting the trust under severe strain. These cuts are sure to hit the quality of patient care.

“Mid and South Essex leaders have serious questions to answer about how they’ve got into this mess.”

NHS England figures show an average 1,750 of 1,869 overnight beds and 97 of the 110 day beds were occupied at the trust in the first quarter of 2024.

Ms Aldridge added: “Trust bosses don’t know or won’t tell us where two-thirds of the bed closures would be. It’s also been impossible to establish which “non-frontline clinical” jobs are on the chopping block, or how they relate to the 600 posts they’ve already said are disappearing.

“It’s clear the trust desperately needs a cash injection, but its senior managers also need to start being more open and transparent.”

Matthew Hopkins, chief executive of Mid and South Essex NHS Trust, said: “We are continuing with our plans to improve the flow of patients through our hospitals and provide high-quality care in the most efficient way. To support this, we are closing beds, including some that were funded temporarily to deal with winter demand at Southend Hospital and providing more beds on a different ward.

“In Broomfield we will be reconfiguring our wards to make best use of resources. These plans will also help us to make much needed improvements to the environments of some of our wards and will help us to care for people in the right place at the right time.”

MP calls urgent meeting over bed cuts

Hospital bosses have been accused of using “cloak and dagger” tactics and keeping staff “in the dark” over a “voluntary severance scheme”.

The Save Southend NHS campaign group has slammed the “secrecy” of senior management at the Mid and South Essex NHS Trust after Unison claimed hospital bosses “want to let 150 staff go”.

The Mid and South Essex NHS Trust has insisted the severance scheme is “purely voluntary” and will help it “redesign teams” and use “resources efficiently”.

A spokesman from Save Southend NHS campaign group said: “As per usual, there is a complete lack of transparency regarding information shared from the mid and south Essex group regarding finances, job cuts and future plans for Southend Hospital.

“A nurse from Southend Hospital has this morning raised these concerns to our campaign, further confirming our fears that cloak and dagger operations are ongoing with staff kept in the dark who are met with inadequate responses from senior management.”

In April, it was revealed that 600 “whole time equivalent posts” would be slashed and only vacancies where there is an “immediate urgency” would be filled.

At the time it was understood that many of the 600 jobs are long-term vacancies, however these posts may be covered by agency or bank staff.

Unison has claimed the trust was unable to confirm how the alleged 150 job losses relate to the announcement in April.

According to Unison, the “trust is proposing a mutually agreed resignation scheme, a form of voluntary severance, designed to enable employees, in agreement with their employer, to choose to leave their employment voluntarily in return for a severance payment”.

The trust has struggled with staff shortages and has a predicted £102million deficit –added to by a heavy reliance on expensive agency staff.

A trust spokesman said: “This scheme will offer us an opportunity to redesign teams and is part of our work to right-size our workforce, using our resources efficiently and making sure we have the right people in the right roles. This is purely a voluntary scheme.”

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Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter