NHS restructure triggers job losses

Up to 26 NHS public relations posts are being axed as part of the re-organisation of the service later this year.

In April, seven of the eight regional NHS executives, along with the 96 health authorities, will be replaced with 28 strategic health authorities (SHAs).

London's regional executive, which has two dedicated PR posts, will remain in place.

All communications staff in the seven other regions will lose their jobs. Dozens more health authority PR roles hang in the balance.

Department of Health head of news John Hibbs said it was hoped that all those in the regional executive offices would find jobs elsewhere in the health service, either with the strategic health authorities or with the civil service centrally.

Staff will not lose their jobs immediately. PROs have been told they will be paid until April 2003, leaving them a year to find other roles.

Janice Cunningham, West Midlands NHS Regional Executive deputy head of communications, said: 'We will transfer to the strategic health authority and have been told we have a job until 1 April, 2003. New posts in the SHAs will be advertised but we also have the option of staying in the civil service. It's not clear what we will all be doing yet.'

Hibbs said the dismantling of the NHS's regional communications structure does not mean that PR will take a back seat in the re-organisation.

He said: 'Communications is vital to the re-organisation. Communicating to patients and staff about health remains as important as ever.'

Sian Jarvis, DoH director of communications, was due to speak at this week's twice yearly meeting of health authority and trust chief executives, on the importance of communications work.

This is the first time Jarvis has spoken at one of the meetings, since she took up the post last year.

Also due to speak at the meeting at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in central London, on Wednesday was Prime Minister Tony Blair and health secretary Alan Milburn.

The aim of re-organisation is to devolve power to regions. In the new structure, health trusts and primary care trusts, which cover hospitals and GPs, will still exist with added budgetary powers.

One senior regional NHS PRO who has found another role is the Eastern Office's head of communications Nick Court.

He has been placed centrally in the DoH specifically to look at how the new structure can best handle its communications.

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