Health cuts: Concern over Trust’s plans to make £10m of savings

SDLP representatives, including Cllr Johnny McCarthy and Colin McGrath MLA, joined Unison members at their picket outside the South Eastern Trust Board meeting on Thursday afternoon.
SDLP representatives, including Cllr Johnny McCarthy and Colin McGrath MLA, joined Unison members at their picket outside the South Eastern Trust Board meeting on Thursday afternoon.

Local political representatives have expressed concerns at proposals by the South Eastern Health Trust to cut services in order to achieve savings totalling more than £10million.

The local Trust has been set a savings target of £10.85m, to be achieved in the second half of the current financial year - part of an overall £70m savings plan across the health and social care system for 2017/18.

Edwin Poots MLA. Pic by Aaron McCracken, Harrisons

Edwin Poots MLA. Pic by Aaron McCracken, Harrisons

Following its board meeting on Thursday, the Trust stressed that it has aimed to ensure its proposals, which are now the subject of public consultation, do not compromise patient or client safety.

“The Trust has responded to this difficult task by identifying £8.75m of savings proposals, or 81 per cent of the total £10.8m plan, which will have less or no impact on the delivery of services. The remaining £2.05m are deemed to have a major impact, or are likely to be controversial,” a spokesperson explained.

“The major proposals consist of a £1m reduction in locum doctor spend across the Trust, to temporarily reduce locum costs, and a £1.05m reduction in agency staff with the aim of reducing agency costs by 25 per cent. The agency reduction excludes qualified nursing posts.

“The proposals considered to have less of an impact relate to non-pay, contract management and delaying of service development savings.”

The spokesperson continued: “Clearly, some of these proposals will impact the level of service we are able to provide to our patients and clients, and will also reduce the number of staff on the ground. It is important to remember that no decisions have yet been made.

“These proposals are temporary, and aimed to achieve savings in-year. We have been asked to consult on them and over the next six weeks we will engage as widely as possible with those who use our services, and we would encourage people to let us know their views. The consultation papers are available on our website - www.setrust.hscni.net”

Responding to the savings proposals put forward by the South Eastern and other health trusts, former Health Minister and Lagan Valley MLA Edwin Poots called on all parties to “work together to take a proactive approach to helping our health system.”

“Some of the suggestions for savings from health trusts are alarming, and my colleagues and I will be taking time to study them in detail over the next few days,” he said.

“It is clear for all to see that a region can’t have an absence of government without there being consequences.

“The DUP is willing to be around the Executive table tomorrow, taking much-needed decisions and trying a chart a way through the challenges. What is required is a government, and firm action by government ministers.

“I recognise at this point in the calendar there are only limited areas where cash savings can be found in-year. The DUP will do all we can to seek to ensure the public and particularly our most vulnerable are protected.”

Lisburn SDLP Councillor Johnny McCarthy has called on the South Eastern Trust to resist pressure to impose further cuts.

“While we will support the Trust in resisting these cuts, we will not support them in implementing them. In a context where the health budget shrinks in real terms year on year, this cannot be sustainable or safe. There is no way that savings of this magnitude can be achieved without compromising on patient safety and delivery of care,” he said.

“All political parties have a responsibility to resolve the political impasse and restore the Assembly to work to alleviate these pressures. That is why the SDLP has called on parties to come together in the talks to agree an implementation plan for health service transformation. Health must not be a political football but health is suffering as a result of political failure.

“There is no more critical issue than the health of the people we represent. It must be the priority we unite behind. Vital services at our own local Lagan Valley Hospital must be protected.”