In response to a series of Freedom of Information requests, officials confirmed that 53,150 posts are due to be lost across 155 hospital trusts, 126 primary care trusts, 23 ambulance trusts and 54 mental health trusts in England, as well as 15 Scottish trusts, nine Welsh trusts and six trusts in Northern Ireland.
Nearly every trust in the country admitted that they planned to shed staff over the next four years, with some losing up to one in five employees, according to the study.
More than a dozen hospitals failed to respond to the requests, meaning the true level of job losses could be substantially higher. The requests were submitted by the TUC as part of its False Economy campaign against public spending cuts, which is launched today.
According to the FOI responses, East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust said it expected to shed 1,013 full time employees between 2010 and 2015, including almost 50 doctors and dental staff, and 270 nurses, midwives and health visitors.
A spokesman for the trust said: “The majority of the reduction is likely to be in non-clinical posts as we seek to protect front line services where possible.”
The Wirral University Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust was said to be cutting 682 posts between 2010 and 2013.
And the University Hospital of North Staffordshire NHS Trust was reported to be forecasting a reduction of 1,349 full-time posts by 2015 – 22.5 per cent of its staff. A spokesman said that a “significant number” of employees were being relocated elsewhere.
The British Medical Association last night warned that patient care would inevitably suffer, while the NHS Confederation – which represents health service managers – also confirmed that front line services would be affected, with job losses “inevitable”.
Nursing leaders said that there was a “gap” between Government rhetoric about protecting front line staff and the reality on the ground.
Union chiefs claimed that the job cuts revealed in the survey represented the “tip of the iceberg” as the Coalition’s austerity drive began to hit hospitals and other NHS services.
While some of the jobs would be eliminated through “natural wastage” – as employees retired or moved on – union leaders warned that redundancies were inevitable.
Plans for a major reorganisation of the NHS, which will see the abolition of primary care trusts as GPs take over responsibility for local health budgets, are likely to result in further job cuts, the unions added.
David Cameron and Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, have promised repeatedly that front line staff would be protected from the £20 billion efficiency programme which is being carried out across the NHS over three years.
In the run up to the general election, Mr Cameron said he would: “cut the deficit, not the NHS”.
But while the overall health budget has been ring-fenced by the Government following years of high spending under Labour, high “health inflation” caused by rising costs in areas such as drug procurements mean that NHS administrators have to find savings elsewhere.
Campaigners said that the 50,000 planned job losses announced by the trusts “gave the lie” to ministers’ claims that the efficiencies could be made by cutting bureaucracy alone.
Last night, some hospital chiefs attempted to dispute the figures, with some saying they did not recognise the data. Others said it did not take account of moves to redeploy staff in other areas. The TUC however, pointed out that the figures had been released by the trusts themselves.
The Department of Health also attempted to play down the figures. A spokesman said that while the Government was “unapologetic” about reducing managerial posts in the NHS, doctor and health visitor numbers had risen since the election.
He added: “This is scaremongering from the unions. We promised to reduce NHS bureaucracy and plough this money straight back into patient care, and that is exactly what we are delivering.
“Since last May, there are almost 2,500 more doctors, more nurses and more midwives – and 2,000 fewer managers.”
However, Brendan Barber, TUC General Secretary, said: “False Economy’s new research on NHS job cuts gives the lie to Government claims that the NHS was safe in their hands.
“Not only are they reorganising the NHS in a way that strips out many of its founding principles, but also insisting on immediate cuts that will certainly harm front line services.”
Doctors’ leaders also warned that patients were likely to suffer as a result of the job losses.
Dr Hamish Meldrum, Chairman of the BMA, said: “We agree absolutely that slashing posts represents a false economy. Even cuts to ‘back room’ staff frequently have an impact on clinical workers, who have to pick up the administrative burden.
“Cutting staff or services is not the only, nor the best, way to save money in the NHS.”
Nigel Edwards, of the NHS Confederation, added: This is going to be one of the toughest ever years for the NHS and it will be very difficult for those affected.
“As a last resort, jobs will be lost. Services will be affected too but the key is to do everything possible to minimise the impact on patients.”
Dr Peter Carter, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “We understand that the Government wants to protect front line services. However … our own research has established that the gap between the rhetoric of protecting the front line and what is actually happening locally in hospitals is increasing all the time.”
Separate figures released today by the NHS Professionals shows that nearly one in three nursing shifts made at short notice went unfilled last year – meaning that patients were deprived of care which ward managers considered necessary.
The body, which manages temporary staff in 80 NHS trusts, said around 29,500 short-notice requests for nursing staff were made in December, with 30.3 per cent going unfilled.
Dave Prentis, general secretary of the Unison trade union, which represents thousands of NHS staff, said: “The Tories are not the party of the NHS – they are the party that will destroy our NHS.
“Losing 50,000 health workers will hurt. It’s only a matter of time before the toll of bed shortages and ward closures mount up.
“With fewer nurses on wards, the return of long waiting lists, and a rise in cancelled operations, patient care will be an early casualty.”