Cash-hit council stubs out health workers

Wakefield Town Hall.
Wakefield Town Hall.

Dozens of health workers could be made redundant after cash-strapped Wakefield Council ended a contract with the NHS to provide community services.

Up to 60 jobs are at risk after the council decided to stop commissioning health and wellbeing services from the district’s mental health trust.

Domestic abuse workers are among those potentially facing the axe, along with specialist health trainers who help people lose weight, cut down on cigarettes and alcohol and manage stress.

Wakefield Council said it would be launching a new service after the contract with South West Yorkshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (SWYPT) ceases at the end of September.

Andrew Balchin, corporate director of adults and health, said: “We periodically review all contracts to ensure they are fit for purpose, and it is not unusual for services to change as a result of this.

“We have spent over a year looking at how we can improve the impact of our services and have kept people informed.”

The council faces making £27m in savings this year and by 2020 it must cut £4m from the public health budget.

The NHS trust said 40 staff members were facing redundancy. The organisation was in talks with the council over the future of a further 20 roles.

Deputy district director Sue Wing pointed out that the wellbeing services had been praised by government watchdog the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

She said: “This is in no way a decision by the trust to stop services or a failure by the trust to deliver the contracts effectively.

“Targets have always been hit, commissioners have always been happy and these services were recently rated as “good” by the CQC.

“Sadly we are in a position nationally where local authorities, particularly in our area, have to make huge savings and very difficult decisions about how they spend money.”

The decision to end the contract in September has raised fears that people could struggle to get the help they need at busy GP surgeries and hospitals - especially if there is a time lag between the contract with SWYPT ending and the new service starting.

Public sector union Unison, representing most of the affected staff, said two domestic abuse workers could lose their jobs.

David Pickersgill, union joint branch secretary, said: “We acknowledge the pressure Wakefield Council is under financially, but it still seems a very short sighted move. Some aspects of it seem irresponsible, particularly cutting domestic violence posts at short notice.”

Wakefield Council said was making £583,000-a-year available for a new service which was designed to tackle social isolation and mental health problems.

Mr Balchin said: “As part of the process SWYPT will be able to bid for the service.

“When planning new services we use evidence–based research and engage with Wakefield residents to understand their needs.

“A study by the Kings Fund about poor health, has shown that poor health behaviours cluster together so it is better to deliver integrated services which address the whole person.

“Other recent evidence has shown being socially isolated has the same impact on your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.”