WORKFORCE: Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells Trust has taken the drastic step of offering all its staff voluntary redundancy as it attempts to save £15m to £20m.

The trust told HSJ it had written to all staff asking them to consider whether they wished to apply for voluntary severance. 

They have until 5 October to apply for redundancy, though the trust said it was unlikely to accept applications from frontline clinical staff.

In a statement, the trust said: “No offers of severance were, or have since been, made directly to any member of staff.

“The priority for the trust remains an absolute commitment to the quality of patient care, and given this, it is unlikely that applications from staff who directly care for patients will be accepted.”

It added: “The trust agreed this approach with our trade unions, and our scheme reflects similar schemes nationally.”

The trust also rejected the idea that the move represented an attempt to “cull” its 4,500 staff.

It said: “The trust values all staff, however, the offer of a voluntary severance package may appeal to some members of staff who were considering a career change or may wish to have a break from working. 

“It is each and every member of staff’s personal choice as to whether or not they apply.”

Steve Brazier, Unison head of Health in the South East, said: “Sadly, this is the least worst option available, and has been negotiated to avoid compulsory redundancies.

“The trust has to find more than £20m of savings this year. Under the terms of a £225m deal for a new hospital which opened last year, PFI debt has to be paid before the trust spends any money on patient care or on staff. Meanwhile, the demand for acute care keeps on rising.”

He added: “We will work with the trust to minimise the impact on patients and to support staff to avoid them being required to cover for the work of colleagues who are made redundant.”

Sarah Dodsworth, the Royal College of Nursing’s operational manager for the South East, said: “Staff are understandably feeling under pressure at the moment.

“This is a drastic measure by the trust and only marginally better than compulsory redundancies, which the hospital considered their only other option. We are working with our members on this issue and will be supporting any individuals accordingly.”

She added: “We are also concerned about the ongoing affect on team morale and will be working with the trust to make sure that our members are fully supported whatever they decide. It is hard to believe that that such drastic measures would not adversely affect patient care.”

The trust’s new Tunbridge Wells Hospital opened at Pembury last year with the last patients moving from the old Kent and Sussex Hospital in September. The Pembury site has more than 500 beds and was built via a 30 year private finance initiative.

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