NURSES at the Royal Children's Hospital are being asked to reduce their working hours as Victorian hospitals struggle with a $107 million funding cut over the next six months.
Hospital chief executive Christine Kilpatrick told staff by letter this week that she was considering ways to slash $3.6 million from the budget this financial year.
Professor Kilpatrick said staff wanting to reduce their working hours for six months, a year or permanently should apply by January 21.
Australian Nursing Federation state secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick said nurses were concerned about the development, the latest in a series of measures flagged by hospitals to meet funding cuts.
The Royal Melbourne Hospital said this week planned Christmas closures of an operating theatre and 45 beds would double from three to six weeks as a result of the cuts.
Other hospital chiefs have warned of bed closures and longer waits for elective surgery and emergency treatment.
The cuts follow a funding adjustment by the federal government based on new population data from last year's census. The federal government has said overall funding for Victorian hospitals is increasing despite the $107 million write-down, and accuses the state government of using the issue as a smokescreen to distract attention from its own budget cuts.
Ms Fitzpatrick said cuts to nursing hours would be ''appalling'' and her members were worried about the impact on their jobs and patient care.
Speaking after meeting 200 nurses at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, she said nurses wanted the state and federal governments to resolve urgently a dispute that threatened patient safety.
Ms Fitzpatrick said she would ask the Commonwealth and Victorian auditors-general to investigate which government was responsible for the cuts so it could be held to account.
''We have to get somebody independent who can actually look at the facts and figures [so] we can clearly say to people who's short-changing the Victorian people, and then put the money back in,'' she said.
The call came as Eastern Health announced it was closing five mental health beds for at least seven weeks from Monday due to staff shortages unconnected to the funding cuts.
In a letter to the Health and Community Services Union, Eastern Health mental health director Paul Leyden said five beds would be closed at the 25-bed Upton House psychiatric ward at Box Hill hospital due to a ''range of issues'', including staff leave and recruitment difficulties.
Union state secretary Lloyd Williams said the decision was ''an admission of total failure by Eastern Health in workforce planning and management and another example of the state government's failure to address the crisis in mental health''.
''The Christmas period is usually a high-risk time for Victorians with a mental illness and we cannot afford to have these beds closed,'' he said.