The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has warned 300 frontline NHS Direct staff could lose their jobs if proposals for new roster arrangements are put in place.

As part of proposals to cut costs, the roster system will be introduced and rolled out throughout 2012-13.

Yet many trade unions and professional bodies, including the RCN, have opposed the changes throughout the consultation period. The change to working patterns will see those who are unable to work the shifts dismissed, but given the opportunity to reapply for any remaining available shifts. Those at risk include staff that currently have flexible working conditions (as carers, for example) and those who work less than 15 hours per week.

Commenting on the proposals, RCN chief executive and general secretary, Dr Peter Carter, said: "What we are seeing here is a clear example of quality being compromised in a bid to make short term savings. NHS Direct has developed over recent years into a service that many patients really value. Nurses have led the way in making this a service which can offer reassurance and advice that on many occasions avoids GP referrals and unnecessary trips to hospital. 

"The evidence suggests that this expert advice has kept one and a half million people out of A&E, and saved the NHS £213 million pounds a year. Our fear is that patients, who can often be extremely worried or distressed, will receive a stripped back service from NHS 111, with more being advised to dial 999 or got to A&E, which is far more costly. At a time when the NHS as a whole is under pressure to make savings, it seems nonsensical that one part of the health service is in effect picking up the tab for another.

"We know that NHS Direct is in a difficult position at the moment, however many of the staff have worked there for years and are naturally very worried and upset about the future. NHS Direct also employs higher numbers of disabled workers who may not be able to cope with the physical demands of a hospital ward, yet are still able to provide sound clinical advice to patients. If these workers lose their jobs they may struggle to find future employment within a healthcare setting and as a result the NHS will lose their expert skills."

Posted by Robert Mair on 27/1/2012