Union leaders and Opposition politicians heaped scorn on Eastern Health's claims that it can eliminate hundreds of jobs without hurting patient care.

Eastern Health unveiled a plan Tuesday to cut its spending by $43 million, while eliminating the equivalent of about 550 jobs. Many of those positions will be lost to attrition as workers retire, and the authority will deal with the rest by cutting overtime and adopting new scheduling strategies.

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Nurses' Union president Debbie Forward said her members are anxious about what pending spending cuts will mean on the floor. (CBC )

While both Eastern Health and Health Minister Susan Sullivan insisted that patient care will not be compromised, union leaders said they don't believe it.

"I think they're really trying to spin doctor this whole issue," said NAPE president Carol Furlong, whose union represents thousands of health care workers at hospitals, clinics and other centres.

"If [licensed practical nurses] for example are eliminated through attrition, somebody has to pick up the slack of that job, and it means they're going to be working short on a unit," said Furlong, adding that patient care by necessity will be harmed.

"To say that services will not be affected is misleading."

Opposition Leader Dwight Ball, who revealed the pending cuts on Monday at the legislature, said he cannot see how taking that many positions out of health care, including housekeeping and maintenance, can be done without patients feeling the difference.

"This will impact services and programs, there's no question about that," he said. "You know these will have an impact on frontline service. They have to."

Newfoundland and Labrador Nurses' Union president Debbie Forward, who attended a briefing with other union leaders on Tuesday, said it's not clear what workplaces will look like as the various cost-cutting moves take effect.

Nonetheless, she said her members are nervous.

"They are working flat out right now and what they don't want to hear is that they will have to do more with less," Forward said.

"I need more details right now because it's still very broad and there's still lots of unknowns about the impact at this time."