Intended for healthcare professionals

News Roundup [abridged Versions Appear In The Paper Journal]

Department of Health to cut two fifths of its staff

BMJ 2003; 327 doi: (Published 06 November 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;327:1068
  1. Amanda Elliot
  1. London

    The health secretary, John Reid, has announced cuts that will see the number of staff at the Department of Health shrink by more than a third over the next 12 months.

    Dr Reid said the plans to shed 1400 central staff–38% of the total–by October 2004 were the “most significant and ambitious ever undertaken by a Whitehall department.”

    He told the House of Commons health select committee's inquiry into public expenditure last week that he wanted to redirect savings to the front line of the NHS, reduce data collection, and move jobs away from London.

    “This will be the largest such move in Whitehall. And it does not end there. We will also be looking at reducing the number of arm's length bodies,” he said.

    “I am amazed at the amount of information we collect. I have asked Sir Nigel [Nigel Crisp, chief executive of the NHS] to look at whether everything we collect needs to be collected.”

    The health secretary made the announcement during his first appearance in front of the committee, where MPs challenged him over the cost of plans to buy more operations from the private sector.

    The committee chairman, David Hinchliffe, said: “Our figures suggest the costs are very significant–around 40% higher–in the private sector than in the NHS.”

    According to data compiled by the Office of Health Economics for the committee, cataract operations cost an average of £922 when carried out by the private sector, compared with £632 in the NHS. A hip replacement costs 33% more in the private sector and a coronary artery bypass graft around 40% more.

    Dr Reid admitted that the NHS was currently paying “quite a premium” for private sector operations, because it was buying piecemeal. He said the NHS would push down prices when it exercised its “full leverage power of block purchasing.”

    Contracts with the new independent sector treatment centres would boost NHS capacity in a “more efficient way,” he said. The cost of buying services from these centres would continue to exceed the NHS tariff for several years to allow the centres to set up premises and recruit new staff speedily, he said.

    He denied that the centres would poach staff from the NHS and confirmed that consultants who signed up to the new consultant contract would be able to work in the centres only on NHS terms and conditions. NHS staff would be transferred to work in the centres only by local agreement in a small number of areas. These staff would still be employed on NHS contracts, he added.

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