Union leaders say changes to three of the four health boards in Newfoundland and Labrador will be to the detriment of workers and patients, despite the Health department  touting the cost-cutting measures as a good news story. 

The presidents of NAPE and the Newfoundland and Labrador Nurses' Union said Thursday's announcement came as a surprise.

NAPE president Carol Furlong said she wasn't expecting to hear about a comprehensive review until 2014 because that was what was outlined in the 2013 budget.

"And that's supposed to be a good news story," Furlong said, "I don't think so."

Debbie Forward, president of the Nurses union, said she heard the news while in contract negotiations.

Yvonne Jones

Labrador MP Yvonne Jones says she doesn't know how patient care won't be affected. (CBC)

"We didn't have any notice that the announcement was going to be made today," Forward told CBC News on Thursday.

Both union leaders have questioned the timing of the announcement, but Health Minister Susan Sullivan said the time is now to create a financially sustainable health system.

In order to save money, the department will cut 961 full-time equivalent positions through attrition and managing better work schedules. Sullivan said there will be no layoffs.

"What they said was there are too many people working in our system — we still say there are too few," Furlong said. 

Forward said the changes will not alleviate workload for nurses — an issue the nurses' union has been advocating to fix.

She said many nurses are called in on days off because there is not enough staff. Forward predicts removing an additional 29 registered nurses will have a big impact on the system.

"Are there going to be more layoffs, or have they gone through it and sort of seen the worst it can get to?"

Liberals, NDP weigh in

Labrador-Grenfell Health, like Central Health and Western Health, plan on lessening costs by reducing the number of positions in the system.

They hope to save $12.7 million a year in their region. Health officials said they have already saved about $9 million, two thirds of their goal, making them the farthest along of the three boards that announced reductions.

The health authority said further reductions will not impact front-line services, but Labrador MP Yvonne Jones disagreed. 

"Well I don't buy that argument, because whether a person is retiring or whether they are being laid off or displaced from their job, that job is not being filled," Jones said.

"That person is still not there delivering that service, and that has an impact on people."

NDP health critic, Gerry Rogers, said the province will have to wait and see if the changes will be a positive or negative for the health care system.

"We have to hear back. Is it working? Is it, in fact, affecting patient care?" Rogers said Thursday.

The four health boards promised to save $84 million annually.