PATIENT safety fears have been raised over plans to shave £78million from the NHS in north Essex in three-and-a-half years.

Stephen Beresky, non-executive director for primary care trust NHS North East Essex, said he believed services were already “creaking” from the cost-saving measures.

At a board of directors meeting in Braintree recently, he questioned plans which will see £27.7million cut from the PCT’s budget and £51million from the amount it pays to providers such as the ambulance service, hospital and mental health care by 2015.

Mr Beresky, of Stanway, who runs a consultancy business, said: “The biggest cost in most organisations is staffing.

“The quickest way to have an impact on reducing budgets is staff.

“I want to make sure the the consequences of the decisions which are being taken are understood because, anecdotally, and a little less than anecdotally, they are creaking.”

The trust has not yet revealed how many jobs will be shed however it plans to slash staff pay by £4million between now and 2015.

Hospital staff spending will remain largely unchanged, but chief executive Gordon Coutts has already said he expects jobs and beds will go.

Sheila Bremner, chief executive for NHS North East Essex, said: “The board has already approved the delivery of our plans.

“We must be mindful of the impact on patients and patient safety as well as the impact on targets.

“We went through a very detailed process, executive to executive, line by line to look at the potential impact of this and we are satisfied by the assurances we had about the potential impact of those plans on safety and quality.”