Foundation trusts are planning to cut at least 30,500 staff over the coming two years in what would be the steepest fall in NHS workforce since modern records began, an HSJ investigation has found.

The figure, released by foundation trust regulator Monitor under the Freedom of Information Act, represents a 6 per cent cut in workforce between April 2012 and April 2014.

It is based on headcount plans provided to the regulator by 134 foundations – more than half of all NHS providers.

Experts say the remaining 113 non-FTs, also facing an unprecedented financial squeeze, are likely to need cuts at least as large – meaning the health service is facing the biggest cuts to workforce since NHS Information Centre records began, in the mid-1980s.

According to the centre, the NHS’s total workforce has only seen two year-on-year reductions in that period, both of them during the financial crisis that began in 2006. Hospital and community services staff fell by 2.9 per cent in 2006, and 0.5 per cent the following year.

Foundation Trust Network director Sue Slipman said the cuts FTs were now forecasting were the “logical consequence” of the service’s plans to save £20bn by 2015 and to shift more care into the community.

The deepest cuts were forecast in the acute FT sector - 25,125 whole time equivalent posts, or 7.3 per cent of their headcount over two years.

“The government created this policy of taking £20bn out,” Ms Slipman said. “You can’t [avoid an] impact on staffing levels when staff are 60 per cent of your cost base.”

If commissioners now failed to put community services in place to reduce demand on hospitals “we’re in big trouble in the system,” she added.

One NHS human resources expert told HSJ that the plans looked in line with an “optimistic view” of the savings needed over the coming two years, but warned that this was “just the beginning”.

“You can do deep cost reductions over a short period knowing you’ll build up [resources] in the medium term, but NHS finances aren’t going to get any better for a long time coming,” he said. He expected the remaining non-FTs would have to make deeper workforce cuts overall than the foundation sector.

But Healthcare People Management Association president Kevin Croft said he expected NHS trusts’ workforce plans to be “broadly” in line with FTs’ plans. “[You cannot] necessarily distinguish between the two sectors, some FTs have also got very challenging savings targets”.

Royal College of nursing head of policy Howard Catton said HSJ’s figures supported the union’s own research on the headcount plans of 220 providers, including 92 foundations, which indicated a planned overall reduction of 7 per cent.

“The worrying thing for us is we’ve not seen details of how these jobs are going to be re-provided [in the community], it looks like posts are just going to go.”

He added that acute provider nurses continued to report high numbers of high-dependency patients; the union was “not seeing the reduction in patient demand or dependency to justify that [planned] reduction in nursing staff”.

Exclusive: foundation trusts plan deepest workforce cuts in a generation