Vacancy freeze at Nor th East acute trust; mental health services under threat in London

Published: 10/03/2005, Volume II5, No. 5946 Page 6

South Tees Hospitals trust warned this week that staff could face redundancies as a result of a worsening financial crisis.

Bosses at the cash-strapped trust - which runs Northallerton's Friarage Hospital, the James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough and Guisborough Maternity Hospital - confirmed that it is set to plunge£25m into the red.

They have announced an immediate vacancy freeze which will reduce staffing costs by 5 per cent in the next financial year, saving£9m.

The trust is scheduled to spend£13m over its annual budget by April and it also has to repay a£12m loan from County Durham and Tees Valley strategic health authority.

South Tees chief executive Simon Pleydell made the warning of redundancies ahead of a board meeting at which emergency measures were discussed.

'It is vital we bring the trust back to a healthy financial position, ' he said. 'I appreciate that colleagues across the trust are worried about redundancies.

'While we cannot rule this out, making people redundant will be a last resort.' Mr Pleydell said the trust had already saved£6.9m but now had to push ahead with further cost-cutting measures which by the end of the next financial year would bring the total saved to£15.1m.

The recruitment freeze will mean no vacancies are filled other than in exceptional circumstances.

Trust director of finance Wendy Hull said the cost of staffing had to be 'seriously considered', but vowed nothing would affect patient care.

'We have to be realistic in making these proposals and entirely mindful that patient care comes first, ' she said.

'Waiting times are a huge national priority and we wouldn't want any of them or our performance to fall.' South Tees director of human resources Sue Covill said: 'We can't rule out redundancies but we hope the measures We are putting in place will help where possible.' Margaret Toase, staffside chair of the trust and branch secretary of Unison, said: 'It is very worrying for our members, but we are going to have to work through it.' Last week, bosses at North Tees and Hartlepool trust predicted a deficit of£6m at year end and also ordered a recruitment freeze.