Hospital staff facing job cuts
HEALTH chiefs have promised that "redundancies will be kept to a minimum" for the staff effected by the decision to go ahead with proposals to cut back cleaning and catering services at a dozen community hospitals in Mid and East Devon.
In the spring, as part of a review to standardise its catering, portering and cleaning services, the Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust proposed to cut around 1,000 domestic hours and 1,100 catering hours a week across the hospitals in its eastern patch: Whipton, Exmouth, Honiton, Ottery St Mary, Sidmouth, Budleigh Salterton, Crediton, Tiverton, Seaton, Axminster, Okehampton and Mortenhampstead.
The trust has now confirmed that the numbers of hours to be slashed are expected to be slightly less following a 90-day consultation that was launched in April.
As part of the shake-up, staff will be trained to be multi-skilled across all the "hotel services" functions, including cleaning, infection control, portering and catering.
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And instead of freshly cooked food prepared on-site, meals will be provided by West Country Foods, an award-winning NHS production kitchen, and delivered frozen and then cooked, known as "cook-freeze".
The number of redundancies is not yet known, but the trust says they will be kept to a minimum through redeployment, taking on a different role or being helped to find alternative related employment.
One-to-one meetings are now being held with affected staff.
One hospital employee in East Devon, who did not want to be named, said she would have to wait until October or November for her meeting when she will find out if she still has a job. The mother-of-one was also concerned about the impact cook-freeze meals would have on patients' recovery and was worried standards of cleanliness might slip due to the reduction in staff.
"To keep us hanging on from April until November is too long," she added. "We don't know where we stand and morale is low."
Ellie Pang, chairwoman of the Ottery St Mary Locality Health and Care Team, said: "Independent inspections will provide a back-up to whether changes to the cleaning and portering services are working, but the changes to the food will be noticed immediately.
"We have been assured that the food will be excellent and can be prepared when it is needed according to people's dietary requirements. So let's wait and see."
Gillie Newcombe, chairwoman of Devon Senior Voice, from Exmouth, said: "We are all very much aware of the need for cost savings within all of our public services – but making cuts to the housekeeping services within any of our hospitals is a risk. There will need to be strict evaluation of all the services concerned."
A trust spokesman said: "Having multi-skilled staff is particularly important at small community sites, where a flexible workforce can cover absence at short notice.
"By varying shift patterns and working hours, we can more efficiently cover the needs of the service."