Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt is due to meet officials at a Staffordshire hospital tomorrow to discuss the financial crisis which has led to it axing 1,000 jobs.

The University Hospital of North Staffordshire NHS Trust is making the cuts in an attempt to deal with £17 million debts.

Ms Hewitt is expected to meet chief executive Antony Sumara and campaigners against the cuts to discuss the crisis. Two weeks ago she suggested the hospital in Stoke-on-Trent had not made the best use of money.

Meanwhile, the hospital said family friendly policies had forced it to hire agency staff to work hours that permanent employees consider unsociable.

A growing number of work-ers are opting to work part-time or on term-time only contracts so they can spend more time with their children.

But the decision means the NHS has to employ agency staff to fill in the gaps, working in school holidays or just a few days a week.

The University Hospital of North Staffordshire said it had a shortage of medical secretaries following the introduction of a family friendly policy several years ago.

The cash-strapped hospital said it had resorted to hiring workers in India to type routine letters because agency staff were proving to be too expensive.

A spokesman said: "The shortage of medical secretaries is an issue locally and one which pre-dates the current financial problem.

"It has largely arisen in the last two to three years when we have pushed for family friendly policies, including part-time and term-time working and it has been difficult filling the other half of their role.

"For example, if one secretary wants to work term-time only, because they have young children, finding someone to work in the holiday periods can be quite difficult.

"A lot of staff have come off maternity and don't want to work full time and we are happy to accommodate and that is why we have a lot of these gaps.

"In the past we have had to use temps and agencies which is both expensive and also you don't get the continuity.

"It is important for us if we have got somebody who has been with us for a number of years and for any reason, whether that be to spend more time with children or because they are a carer, they want to work less if you have got the choice between keeping them four days a week or not at all it is in our mutual interest to try and support it."

The hospital has 7,300 staff, of which 1,300 are part time.

Birmingham's Queen Elizabeth and Selly Oak hospitals are also struggling to recruit medical secretaries, but believe the current shortage is not a result of family friendly policies.

A spokeswoman said: "We have 33 vacancies in total. There is a national shortage of medical secretaries."

She said the shortage meant in-house agency staff would be used to fill the recruitment gap.

A spokesman for Worcestershire Acute NHS Trust, which covers Worcester Royal Infirmary and Alexandra Hospital in Redditch, said there was not a shortage in staff and family friendly policies had been beneficial in retaining staff.