Local Ulster Unionist councillors have queried why no local DUP representative attended last Thursday’s Southern Health Trust crisis meeting on cuts.
Cllrs Arnold Hatch and Julie Flaherty spoke out on the proposed cuts to the local health service asking where was the £1billion funding promised by the DUP and Conservative Party.
Speaking as Trusts across Northern Ireland have been told to slash £70m from their budget, Alderman Hatch asked why no one from the DUP attended the ‘Extraordinary’ meeting at the Southern Health Trust’s Headquarters in Craigavon on Thursday.
Alderman Hatch said: “The questions have to be asked, where were the DUP and where is the £1billion?”
“That funding if it had been forthcoming could have avoided these cuts. Was the £1 billion dependent on the Assembly being up and running or not? We are getting two different answers from the DUP,” he said.
Cllr Flaherty, who attended the meeting, queried why attendees were only given the ‘Savings Plan - Consultation’ document on arrival at the meeting.
She said: “£6.4 million of ‘savings’ as they refer to it as. Otherwise known as “cuts”. That is the bottom line. No discussion. That will be down to the consultation period.
“I left with the document and more questions than answers. Very little detail on impact to you and me...but be assured there will be.
“If a health minister was in place this could well be avoided. Some of these issues could absolutely be alleviated if a functioning Executive was in place.
“What we must ask ourselves is “what is more important to you? Achieving these ‘savings’ or pursuing the much hailed transformation plans or tackling spiralling waiting times? All three outcomes cannot be achieved at the same time!
Julie said, “I owe a great debt of thanks to the local health trust. The experience I had with my late son will stay with me forever. The level of care and kindness we received as a family was second to none. I cannot accept this level of short term thinking and disregard for the staff and patients this will undoubtedly affect.”
Alderman Hatch added: “This process of so called CONSULTATION is a farce. I don’t think the proposals have been thought through properly.
“For example, one of the proposals was to remove the voucher scheme from over 50 Pharmacies and deliver incontinence products, walking aids etc, directly from Belfast through the Business Services Organisation (BSO) who would buy in bulk and deliver directly to the patient. No detail was given. Are they planning to farm this out to the private sector?”
“How would a delivery agent from Belfast deliver to Craigavon more cheaply than a pharmacist from the area who normally delivers for nothing.
“I await the answer.”
DUP MLA Carla Lockhart said she was not aware the meeting was taking place.
DUP MP for Upper Bann said: “It is disappointing to see the Ulster Unionist Party turn their focus on the DUP once again whilst ignoring the real problem surrounding these proposed cuts. Following our agreement with the Conservative Party the DUP has secured £1.5 billion of funding which will benefit everyone in Northern Ireland.
“Within that package there is money for both mental health and to address waiting list pressures. However, the largest amount for health is to deliver the much-needed reform process which can tackle the root cause of problems rather than continue to treat the symptoms.
“The DUP wants to see an Executive restored immediately so the people of Northern Ireland can have a Health Minister at their desk doing the job they have been elected to do. It is Sinn Fein who are blocking the restoration of devolution but unfortunately once again the UUP appear to see more mileage in attacking unionists.
“We are all suffering the consequences of Sinn Fein’s failure to bring forward a budget before they collapsed Stormont and now health service reform is being stymied. DUP representatives, including myself are meeting with the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Health this week to discuss all of the pressures our health service is facing.
“I want to see not only the DUP, but all parties playing their part where it actually counts – in the Assembly chamber and around the Executive table. We can all register our opposition to these proposed cuts, but that is absolutely meaningless unless you are prepared to do something about it. The DUP will join the Ulster Unionist Party and any other party that will restore devolution immediately to help the public. The challenge goes out to Sinn Fein whether they care about the health of our people more than their own narrow agenda. I hope the UUP will join me in issuing that challenge.”
Speaking on Monday, Mrs Lockhart also condemned the health cuts and blamed the crisis on Sinn Fein.
Mrs Lockhart said: “The DUP are ready, willing and able to form an Executive and until that happens cuts of this nature are inevitable as the Trust seeks to live within its means. It is not the fault of the Trust that these cuts are taking place but the issue remains that owing to Sinn Fein’s belligerence we have no functioning Executive and Assembly to mitigate these cuts. We cannot speak highly enough of our health professionals who work in a challenging arena with high pressure and stress. They still deliver a top class service for us all.
“It is disappointing but not surprising once again to see the UUP attack fellow Unionist and not focus their attention on Sinn Fein who have no interest in delivering for the whole community but only a section of it. The people of Upper Bann have their verdict on the UUP, and their attacks prior to the Westminster election, on the 8th June.
“These cuts affect people from all sides of the community and certainly the most vulnerable and in need.
“The DUP, in their negotiations with the Conservative Party, secured additional funding for several keys areas. Mental Health was the area identified as being under funded and this money will be forthcoming with or without a functioning Executive.
“This money was not to bail out a crisis of Sinn Fein’s making and cannot be used for this. I along with my DUP colleagues am due to meet the Southern Trust Health Chief in the coming days to discuss the proposed cuts.”