COLCHESTER is to be hit harder by NHS job losses than anywhere else in Essex, according to the latest figures.

More than 600 jobs, including dozens of nursing posts, are being shed from Health services in Colchester and Tendring.

An estimated 510 jobs will be lost from Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust – the highest level announced for any acute trust in Essex.

A third of those will be clinical posts.

The trust said 140 jobs have been lost in the past year and the remainder will be shed between now and 2013.

A hospital governor has questioned how health services will cope if hundreds of jobs are slashed.

Des McCarron said he believed some hospital wards were already being run by a bare minimum of nursing staff.

He said, at a recent governors’ meeting, the trust was advertising for dozens of qualified nurses to cover shifts each fortnight.

He said: “If it has so many vacancies for agency staff, how can it cope with losing more jobs? At the same time, it keeps having these crises when it is running short of beds.

“That’s not going to stop as more and more houses are being built in Colchester, so there are going to be more and more people needing the hospital.

“The trust says it will be able to achieve it with things like earlier discharges, more day case patients, better management of patients, but if you haven’t got enough staff on the ground it becomes very difficult to do those things.”

Mike Kavanagh, regional officer for the Royal College of Nursing, said: “The chief executive has said there will be no frontline job losses.

“I don’t see how you can reduce staff by 500 without it affecting the frontline.

“I know it is possible to reduce staff by hundreds a year just by natural wastage, as turnover in hospitals tends to be quite quick.

“But you can’t keep reducing the number of staff without it having an impact on patient care.”

The primary care trust, NHS North East Essex, has announced it is to shed 94 jobs.

More than half will be clinical staff. Nineteen clinicians and 30 nurses face the chop, plus 33 other staff.

A further 12 full-time posts will not be replaced when staff leave. It is the only primary care trust in the county to confirm job losses on that scale.

NHS South East Essex has announced it will be shedding 44 posts between now and 2014.

Bob Russell, Colchester’s MP, said he was shocked by the high numbers in Colchester.

He said: “These are very high figures which are obviously a very serious cause for concern.

“I will be seeking meetings with the chief executive and chairman of both trusts to ascertain precisely what is happening and, if necessary, I will be pursuing my concerns with the Secretary of State.

“The Department of Health says the NHS budget is not being cut. I want to ensure the nation’s finances are not being used as an excuse to ramp up the number of job losses.”