AROUND 200 jobs will be axed at Dorset County Hospital in the next 12 months.

The shock announcement will be made to staff today as they turn up for emergency meetings with bosses at the Dorchester hospital. It comes after months of turmoil as the hospital board battled to control the spiralling £7.5million debt.

In an exclusive interview, the hospital’s interim chief executive Derek Smith said that the cuts are vital for the hospital’s survival.

He said that staff must prepare for a ‘tough but necessary’ year, which will include staff cuts, changes in services and a possible pay freeze.

He said: “We have some very acute financial difficulties at the moment.

“But if they became chronic the affect would be to corrode that high quality of service and to undermine the morale and commitment of the staff that work here and none of us can afford that to happen. So it is going to be tough but it is also necessary.”

He stated that the high amount of debt was caused by the hospital board employing too many workers over the past three years without having the budget.

He and other board directors will tell staff today that 30 to 40 job cuts will be made in the next few months and then 150 to 160 more during 2010. The job losses will be across the board, from frontline nurses to management and administrative staff.

The board are also in discussion with the unions about asking staff to take a pay freeze in the new year. By making these cuts the executive board estimate the savings will be between £8million to £12million a year and hope that they will be breaking even by March 2011.

Departments to be scrutinised as part of the cost saving measures include the specialist cardiology ward, the oncology ward for cancer sufferers and specialised surgeries.

Mr Smith added: “I think there is a lot of people who are justifiably proud of the hospital and the service it provides locally. I know many of the staff are deeply wedded to the hospital and to the interests of patients.

“This very difficult job is to make sure we can continue to do that.”