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Health Secretary heckled over NHS staffing claims

RCN says thousands of posts are at risk of being slashed across the health service

Nurses gave Andrew Lansley a tough time today as he tried to defend reforms of the health service.

The Health Secretary was heckled after he claimed clinical staffing levels in the NHS had increased.

Mr Lansley was speaking after a study by the Royal College of Nursing warned more than 60,000 frontline jobs in the NHS, including those of nurses, were at risk because of spending cuts, with almost half already gone.

He was laughed at by members of the audience at the RCN annual conference in Harrogate after saying nurses should tell superiors if staffing levels were not safe.

And some in the crowd shouted "liar" after the Health Secretary claimed clinical staffing levels had increased on his watch.

Thousands of frontline NHS jobs have already been lost amid government cuts and thousands more are set to go according to figures published by the Royal College of Nursing.

Figures from the Royal College of Nursing show:

  • More than 60,000 frontline jobs, including those of nurses, are at risk
  • Almost half have already gone
  • Fewer than one in 10 of 2,600 community nurses polled by the RCN say they have enough time to meet the needs of their patients
  • Nine out of 10 claim their caseload has increased in the past year

Speaking to ITV News the General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, Peter Carter, denied claims that the figures were wrong.

The Royal College of Nursing says planned job cuts include:

  • More than 400 in Greater Glasgow and Clyde
  • Similar number in Sandwell and West Birmingham
  • 675 in Blackpool
  • 23% reduction in staffing numbers in South London up to 2015

The Government is disputing the figures and said official statistics show there are only 450 fewer qualified nursing staff in England than in September 2009 - while the number of managers has been slashed by 15%.

Speaking to ITV1's Daybreak the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg denied the NHS was about to "break" and said the Government did not recognise the figures produced by the RCN.

We simply do not recognise them, we actually think the numbers are relatively stable. This year we are training about double the number of community nurses and health visitors than we did last year. Unlike other public services, we protected the spending on the NHS and increased it year on year on year. That shows our commitment to the NHS.

– Simon Burns MP, Health Minister
Member of nursing staff dispensing drugs from a trolley on a ward Credit: David Jones/PA Wire

The Blackpool Teaching Hospitals Trust said it had not made any cuts to frontline staff and is not planning to in the next year.

In a statement the trust said:

Providing safe and quality care to our patients is our key priority and we have actually recruited an additional 100 nurses over the past six months and are still actively recruiting more nurses this year.

Our Medical Correspondent Sue Saville looks at how the the Health Secretary is trying to brave his critics.

ITV News Correspondent Romilly Weeks reports that the Royal College of Nursing have said that there are 61,000 jobs currently at risk.