Community health cuts ‘scandalous’

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Plans to cut community health services in the Sudbury area, including reductions in numbers of district nurses and physiotherapists, have been described as “scandalous”.

Only a month after international services giant Serco won a £140 million NHS Suffolk contract to provide community health services in the county, it is consulting with staff and unions over proposals to slash 137 posts – including 27 physiotherapists.

Peter Clifford, chairman of the Sudbury community health group Watch hit out: “Serco should stick to emptying bins and dealing with nuclear waste in my view, and stop trying to profit from the care of the elderly.

“The proposed cuts in trained physiotherapists will mean that patients will get little or almost no proper rehabilitation therapy, thereby putting more pressure on the acute hospitals such as West Suffolk and delaying recovery.

“These are major changes to agreed community health services and unless the commissioners, NHS Suffolk, the primary care trust take action to bring this consultation into the public domain, they will be in abrogation of their duty. I shall be writing to them on that basis.”

Sudbury mayor Jack Owen described the proposals as “absolutely scandalous.” “I will be amazed if people do not rise up against it.” He said it would affect patients in Sudbury. particularly those using rehabilitation beds in Hazell Court, Acton Lane, where Serco proposes to introduce five day packages of care before patients can be quickly discharged back into their homes.

Mr Clifford added “Rehabilitation of elderly patients in Hazell Court in Sudbury will be reduced from as much as up to six weeks to possibly as little as five days.”

He said affected health staff were being “pressurised” to take a mutually agreed retirement scheme called MARS, with the prospect of a financial fine of up to £250 plus VAT if they back-out before completion.

“If they do not agree to MARS at all then I am told they are likely to be allocated a ‘new job’ running all over the county, which will be impossible for those with young families.”

Tim Roberts, regional organiser for the health workers’ union Unison said: “There is no way that Suffolk Community Healthcare can lose so many key professionals and maintain current services.

“Patients are clearly going to have to wait longer to see a health professional, and vulnerable people are not going to receive the same quality service that is available now.”

Paul Forden, managing director of Serco’s clinical healthcare business, said: “We have always been clear and transparent about our intention to further improve Suffolk’s community healthcare by investing in technology and increasing efficiency so that clinicians can spend more time caring for patients. This commitment has not changed.

“We would not be making any compulsory redundancies among frontline clinical staff and will do everything we can to minimise the number of non-clinical staff affected by the changes. This means that we will not fill vacant positions and we will also offer people opportunities to work flexibly, reduce working hours or take a career break.”

“Where appropriate and there is clear patient need, care will be extended beyond the five days, with proactive clinical reassessment on a five day package basis.”

NHS Suffolk said it was a tender requirement the approved provider would continue to deliver current services to at least the continuing level of care and performance.

“This means Serco should provide the same range of community services that were provided by Suffolk Community Healthcare prior to transfer,” said Tracy Dowling, NHS Suffolk director of strategic commissioning.