NHS regulators have taken the controversial decision despite intense concern among hospital bosses and health unions that reducing staff will hit quality of care, patient safety and staff morale, while increasing waiting times.
Monitor and the NHS Trust Development Authority (TDA) have issued the instruction to reduce staffing almost three years after ministers ordered hospitals to do the opposite. They responded to the official report into the Mid Staffs care scandal by saying staffing levels must be increased in order to improve the standard of care.
“If trusts do begin to reduce headcount the impact on patients would be swift, through either rising waiting times or reduced quality of care or both,” said Richard Murray, the King’s Fund’s director of policy. “Three years on from Robert Francis’s report into Mid Staffs, which emphasises that safe staffing was the key to maintaining quality of care, the financial meltdown in the NHS now means that the policy is being abandoned for hospitals that have run out of money.”
Labour’s Heidi Alexander, the shadow health secretary, said: “At the last election, the Tories promised to ensure hospitals had enough staff to meet patient demand. However, less than a year later they’re asking hospitals to draw up plans to reduce staff numbers.”