Local people have been urged to have their say on controversial plans by the South Eastern Health Trust to cut services in a bid to save cash.
The Trust has begun a six-week public consultation on its proposals for cutbacks aimed at saving £10.85m during the current financial year.
The plans include reducing its spend on locum doctors, cutting agency staff, delaying recruitment and not implementing an uplift on community care contracts.
The Trust’s 2017/18 Savings Plan document warns that the move to reduce locum spend will have “a significant impact on waiting times for both emergency and elective patients across all hospital sites”, including Lagan Valley.
The Trust is planning to hold a series of public meetings “to ensure that the public have the opportunity to contribute to the consultation process.”
A meeting is scheduled to take place at Lisburn Recreation Hall, Lagan Valley Hospital on Tuesday, September 26, 6pm - 8pm. Other meetings will take place at Dundonald Ice Bowl (September 21, 2pm - 4pm) and Downshire Estate, Downpatrick (September 28, 7pm - 9pm).
The Trust has said it will also facilitate further meetings with groups and individuals upon request.
Querying the timing of the public meeting at Lagan Valley, which comes at the end of the consultation period, local DUP MLA and former Health Minister Edwin Poots said: “It will not give them (the Trust) much opportunity to consider any opinions expressed that are contrary to what they are proposing.
“I would fear that the public’s view will not be given the credence that it should be. People have real and genuine concerns.
“If they want to have a genuine consultation process they need to allow people to address the issues and give their views some consideration.”
Urging people to have their say during the consultation period, Mr Poots said he recognises that “the Trust has found itself in a very difficult position” and has had the cuts forced upon it “largely as a result of not having a government in Northern Ireland.”
“Some of the cuts that are being proposed will have a hugely negative impact and will end up costing the Trust money at a later point,” he warned. “If we had a local Health Minister in place they could step in and tell the Trust they can’t do this, but without a minister in place it is the public that will suffer.”
Also urging local people to have their say on the Trust’s plans, Ulster Unionist MLA Robbie Butler described the proposed cuts as “neither sensible nor reasonable” and warned that they will only “exacerbate the unprecedented waiting times crisis”.
“By reducing frontline staffing, and slashing up to 700 elective care procedures, it is inevitable that local waiting times are going to spiral further. So many people are already being forced to wait for so long that I am fearful that these latest cuts will cause patients to come to serious and lasting harm.
“Instead of simply cutting medical staff we should be making savings wherever else we can. The UUP believes a major saving could be made by merging the existing five health trusts across Northern Ireland into one, and that locally further savings could be made in Lagan Valley by using cheaper, but just as clinically effective, generic medications.
“I would urge as many people as possible to respond to the current consultation exercise in order to send a message that we still expect and deserve a safe and sustainable local health service.”
Responding to concerns about the date of the public meeting in Lisburn, a Trust spokesperson assured: “The consultation period runs until October 5. Following the consultation closing date, all feedback will be comprehensively analysed to produce recommendations to inform any decision. No decision will be taken prior to the end of the consultation period. We would hope to reassure anyone that we will accept feedback until October 5 and that all comments, received at any stage during the consultation period, will be considered and will be reflected in the feedback summary.”
Full details of the cost saving proposals and the consultation process are available online at www.setrust.hscni.net
For further information, or to register attendance at a public meeting, contact Tania Gibson on 028 9055 0434 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
• Read related story - Health cuts: Concern over Trust’s plans to make £10m of savings