Demands for open public meeting on proposed health cuts

Craigavon Area Hospital. INLM02-110gc
Craigavon Area Hospital. INLM02-110gc

Demands for an open public meeting on proposed health cuts have been made by politicians and the general public after a feisty meeting in Craigavon today.

Strict protocol at the Southern Health and Social Care Trust Board meant many members of the general public and politicians were unable to voice concerns about the proposed cuts.

At a packed ‘extraordinary’ meeting at Trust headquarters, Interim Chief Executive Francis Rice and his team outlined the proposal for the £6.4m of cuts the local trust has been asked to make by the Department of Health.

Several proposals include deferring posts which have become vacant during 2017/18 within the Trusts business support functions such as technology, human resources and finance - which is expected to save £1.2m.

The Trust also aims to make efficiencies on services such as furniture, printing etc.

However many of the political representatives accused the Trust of having little detail in a document which was only made available to scrutinise a short time before the meeting.

Mickey Brady, Sinn Fein MP, referred to substantial funding being promised to the health service and when this funding would be forthcoming. “It begs the question, who has requested these cuts.”

The SDLP’s Sinead Bradley said: “There was a promise of £1 billion for the health service. Where is this money? That promise was made by the two main political parties, the DUP and Sinn Fein.”

“Where is the money the DUP was promised from Theresa May?”

Referring to the Trust’s assertion that part of the savings may be found in ‘natural slippage’ SDLP MLA Justin McNulty described it as ‘false savings’

Brian Smith of NIPSA said that while they always had good open relations with the Trust: “Today we despair.”

He queried the Trust calling a meeting in the middle of summer and at such short notice to examine the document.

Despite not having speaking rights SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly called on board to suspend Standing Orders today or organise a public meeting whereby citizens could air their views.

One member of the public also rose to complain about the situation.

She said she was on a steep learning curve since arriving at the meeting at noon and didn’t have time to read the document.

She was also perplexed at not being able to air her views at a ‘public’ meeting.

She asked directly if the Trust was planning a public meeting so the general public could air their views but was not given a direct answer.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: “The indicative resource allocation for the Department of Health is £5,095.4m, which provides an additional £224.8m for Health, when compared against the allocated budget at the start of the 2016/17 financial year. This indicative allocation includes the additional one-off, allocation of £60.1m, in July from the Secretary of State. Despite this, the financial challenge for Health remains significant due to inflation, (widely recognised as 6% per annum), an increasing and ageing population and the cost of new treatments.

“HSC Trusts have been tasked by the Department with developing draft savings plans to deliver a total of £70m of savings in 2017/18 which must be achieved as part of the financial plan for this year. The HSCB will work with the Trusts during the consultation period to develop actions to mitigate as far as possible the proposed temporary service changes to maintain quality of provision. Maintaining patient safety remains the prime priority for the HSC.”

The Southern Trust proposals will contribute £6.4m towards the regional health and social care savings target of £70m. In developing the savings proposals, the Trust’s priority has been to protect direct patient care and to reduce spending in support areas where possible. The main points of the plan are:

There is no direct impact on current staff, but the Trust will maintain current vacancy management processes;

Planned service developments will be progressed as quickly as possible, but are unlikely to be implemented before April 2018;

The Trust currently supplies small aids and appliances e.g. items for personal care to clients to support them at home. How these are provided will change to a home delivery service. Any clients affected will be contacted directly to explain how this will work.

Interim Chief Executive, Mr Francis Rice said: “We must keep within the funding allocated to the Southern Trust, so our savings plan proposals must show how we will do that. Our savings will be targeted to ensure there is a limited impact on direct patient care, and to protect our core services.

The Southern Trust 2017/2018 Financial Planning Saving Plan is now out for consultation and is available here: http://www.southerntrust.hscni.net/about/consultations.htm