A CASH-STRAPPED Yorkshire health trust has been accused of living in a fantasy world by launching a recruitment drive for financial staff while it has a shortage of nurses.

Scarborough and North East Yorkshire Healthcare NHS Trust is advertising 12 finance posts worth a combined annual salary of more than £350,000.

Unions say the trust which has announced plans to save £2m has been operating a recruitment freeze on frontline staff since November. They warn of "dangerously low" staff levels at Bridlington Hospital.

Kevin Coyne, head of health at Unite, said: "We are entering an Alice In Wonderland world where you employ more finance staff to oversee cuts to services. For £350,000, you could employ an extra 14 frontline healthcare staff providing patient care.

"Because they are not replacing nurses on the wards, staffing levels are at dangerously low levels at Bridlington Hospital. There is not even a replacement for the hospital gardener but there seems to be no freeze on finance staff recruitment, in fact exactly the opposite; a veritable splurge."

The posts advertised range from head of finance and procurement salary £60,669 to £75,114 to payables clerk, worth between £12,577 and £15,523 a year.

The recruitment drive comes after more than 37,000 people signed a petition to Downing Street last month opposing the closure of the cardiac monitoring unit (CMU) and two acute medical wards at Bridlington.

Unite fears lives will be put at risk if the closures go ahead, with patients facing journeys of 20 miles or more to Scarborough for emergency treatment.

Mr Coyne said: "We are not against proper financial procedures, but healthcare priorities in this part of North East Yorkshire are topsy-turvy. Senior trust managers need to take a serious reality check and listen to local people."

Campaigners who have spent years battling to save services at Bridlington said they were "appalled" at the move.

Mick Pilling, who launched the Save Bridlington Hospital Campaign Action Group in 2002, said: "I think it's diabolical. We are short of nurses and the CMU had to close twice last year because of a shortage of staff. Patients' families are coming in to feed them and we are short of a gardener and a maintenance man. I think we are short of about 25 nurses in the line and 15 cleaners.

"They say it is to bring their finance team up to the level of other hospitals, well why don't they bring the nursing team up too?"

Residents in the resort are still waiting to find out what will happen to the trust's plans to change services at Bridlington.

A proposed shake-up of maternity services across the trust's hospitals is being considered by the Independent Reconfiguration Panel, set up in 2003 to advise the Secretary of State on contested proposals for health service change.

Trust chief executive Iain McInnes said the trust had undergone significant development and there were more changes ahead.

"Sound financial management is an essential part of securing that future, and the jobs currently advertised, which are a combination of new posts and vacancies, are important so that we have the expertise behind the scenes to make sure that our front-line staff have the skills and equipment to deliver high quality services."

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