A TOTAL of 2,000 health service jobs are to be axed in the Lothians as the first major public sector cuts hit the region.
The extent of the cutbacks will be almost three times deeper than
previously expected, with the "backroom" posts being cut over the next two years.
Health chiefs today vowed to protect front line services and promised there would be no compulsory redundancies.
However, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) questioned whether that would be possible and warned that it expects nursing posts to be sacrificed.
The extent of the cuts emerged in health board papers leaked to the Evening News which outlined the severity of the cuts.
The number of jobs to go in NHS Lothian is greater than the 1,250 so far announced by NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, although the west coast health board is expected to axe 670 nurses' and midwives' posts.
In contrast, NHS Lothian chief executive James Barbour has said he intended to protect front line services, instead looking for the savings from reduced "backroom" posts.
Unison and the RCN are in talks with the health board about how to minimise the impact on staff. But Norman Provan, the RCN's associate director, said the idea that front line services would be protected "should be challenged".
"From what I have seen the number of nursing posts will be reduced, although in fairness these may be nurses not necessarily on the front line who do not deal with patients every day," he said.
"We've known for a while that this would be the last year of real investment in health.
"Staff costs are going up, drug prices are spiralling and there is more demand than ever. All of this is happening while there is less money available, and the biggest saving organisations can make is by cutting staff."
The planned reduction accounts for almost seven per cent of NHS Lothian's 29,000 staff.
Scottish Labour leader and East Lothian MSP Iain Gray said: "The Scottish Government budget this year is 1 billion more than last year so there is no reason why we should see a reduction in jobs in the NHS. We will fight any reduction in NHS services."
Tom Waterson, Unison's Lothian branch chairman, added: "No-one will be getting forced out a job."
Alan Boyter, director of human resources and organisational development for NHS Lothian, said: "NHS Lothian has approached the financial pressures by looking for innovative ways to continue to improve service quality and efficiency, to protect front line services and to deliver higher standards of care.
"Working in partnership with the trades unions and professional organisations we intend to increase productivity through staff training, better use of IT and service redesign.
"These measures, along with natural staff turnover, will result in a reduction of our workforce from 29,000 to around 27,000 over the next two years. We will continue our commitment to avoiding compulsory redundancies."