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Monday, 11 April 2011

Why is the BBC making a fuss about NHS job cuts?

The state controlled airwaves have been full of the jabberings of nursing union honchos whingeing about 2,000 front line positions being cut in the NHS. But let's get a few things straight:

1. This is 0.1% of the employment in the NHS. All organisations get reorganised from time to time.  No organisation is perfectly efficient, and even if they were, technology improvements and changes in demand will mean that they need to review their staffing needs from time to time.

2. Nobody will lose their jobs.  Staff turnover in the NHS averages a bit under 10%, but in mental health it is as high as 15% across the whole NHS.  Just wait a few months and staff numbers will always decline to hit the targets.  It just means nobody is to be recruited to fill the post.

3. But don't worry, the number of clinical posts in the NHS isn't going down.  It is actually going up.

Not that the unions or the BBC will tell you that.  They leave that up to the head of the NHS. whom they quote on their website.  You would have thought that would be the end of the story.  Surely the head of the NHS should carry more authority than a union leader?  Not in BBC land, where story from the union is that the NHS has to make savings of up to 20%.

True, but they don't tell you that the 20% saved from existing budgets will be spent elsewhere in the NHS, with more cash added to increase spending in real terms.  What sort of savings are we talking about?  Well, downgrading some of the staff positions, so that some tasks are not performed by overqualified staff.  And then some positions will disappear because of improved medical techniques.  Just as the aspirin and antibiotics replaced the nurse to mop the fevered brow of sufferers, new procedures reduce the need for staffing.  Sadly some parts of the NHS have been very resistant to change, the notable case being the old-fashioned surgeon who operates in a  fully staffed operating theatre when the same procedures could have been undertaken more efficiently if the surgeon had learnt and adopted modern techniques.

Instead the BBC backs the whingers of the £135 billion a year healthcare industry.  That figure almost represents 10% of GDP (If we deduct the budget deficit from GDP to get a figure of what we might consider "sustainable" GDP, then it is over 10%).  Another way of looking at it is that this is over 20% of private sector activity, the ultimate means of paying for all government services with far fewer than 20% of the total number of private sector employees.  Which is why most nurses and all doctors are paid substantially more than the median public sector wage, not that you will hear that from the RCN or the BBC.

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