A town pharmacist has warned that cost-saving changes proposed by the local health trust will be detrimental to patients.
Keith Partridge, whose father Cyril opened the West Street chemist in Portadown in the late 1980s, was one of those who spoke at a public consultation meeting on Tuesday night.
Under the proposals, aimed at saving £6.4 million, aids such as walking frames and commodes will come from a central base in Lisburn, rather than from local chemists who currently redeem vouchers.
He said, “If a patient or relative can’t drive to Lisburn to pick up the equipment, then they will have to wait for a delivery, which could be every two to three days.
“Even if a patient is ready to be discharged from hospital, he or she will have to wait until the equipment is delivered. That’s a two-day wait of £480 per day, which is going to cost the trust in the long run.”
He said he also found it “quite insulting” that the consultation paper referred to ‘controversy’ from chemists who would ‘lose income’ with the removal of the voucher scheme.
He said, “As a pharmacist, I am a healthcare professional and make a lot of these deliveries in my own time and at my own expense. My key focus is the patient and their quality of care.”
The proposals, by the Southern Health and Social Care Trust, also propose reducing the use of ‘flexible’ staffing. These include nursing and other staff employed through agencies and locum doctors.
The consultation paper added that as these proposals may be considered as major and/or controversial, measures would need to be taken to ensure they do not compromise on safety or deliverability.
John Creaney, Unison representative, described the meeting as a “political football”.
And he questioned statements from both MP David Simpson and MLA John O’Dowd that money would be available for health in the autumn funding round.
“If that’s the case, why are all the trusts holding these consultations?” he said.
Julie Flaherty said it was disappointing that no representative of the Department of Health was there.
She said, “There were people there with specific worries as to how this will affect patients on the ground. They are worried about operations and winter pressures.”
On Tuesday evening - the same evening as the meeting - the trust issued a statement saying its Emergency Departments were experiencing extreme pressure and asked the public to consider other options such as the Minor Injury Unit, their own GP or pharmacist.
In a statement, John O’Dowd said, “There is no reason why centrally-led funds cannot be released to help address the pressures on health and education services.
“Sinn Féin have been directly engaging with the Head of the Civil Service over the course of a number of weeks to challenge the planned budget cuts within the Health and Education Services,”
“We have consistently argued that the significant funds which departments have been unable to spend for whatever reason should be released in order to address the pressures facing front-line services.
“I welcome the indications that this may now be set to happen but there are still many questions facing the Department of Health as to why they chose to embark on a divisive consultation process, proposing major cuts to front-line services when alternatives were available.
“It has always been Sinn Féin’s position that this was a politically-motivated and cynical exercise and should now be ended.”