A TOTAL of 40 posts are to be lost at the Royal Hampshire County Hospital in Winchester in the first round of job cuts.

The compulsory cuts have fallen among non-clinical support staff such as administrators secretaries and a communications officer.

In the past few weeks 330 letters have been sent out to staff telling them the future of their jobs was being considered.

As reported in the Daily Echo, the crisis came to a head when chief executive Chris Evennett said a £7.5m deficit was jeopardising the long-term future of the Winchester and Eastleigh Healthcare NHS Trust, which runs the hospital, pictured right. So far one ward has closed and another is set to follow, reducing the number of beds by 56 by March 2007.

A spokesman said: "We are minimising redundancies. So far one ward has closed with no redundancies. All staff were redeployed and we are hoping to carry on doing that as we go through the ward closure programme."

In total, about 310 posts in the 2,000-strong workforce are set to be cut by March 2009.

The trust says changes in the way the hospital operates means it needs fewer beds. Over the next two years the number of beds will reduce by 125.

Doug Smith, a spokesman for the union Amicus, said: "It's a high number but it could have been much higher. With the help of the unions, management has been able to reduce the number of redundancies, such as reductions in overtime and cutting use of bank staff. All 40 will be leaving before Christmas so it is grim."

Mr Smith said he feared redundancies among clinical staff were looming.

He added: "We think the next wave will involve nursing staff. When Victoria ward closed staff were redeployed. We may not be so lucky."