Staff sickness cost the Department of Health more than £1.1m in the last financial year, it was revealed yesterday.
With proposals to cut 722 nursing jobs and close residential homes for the elderly as part of wider efficiency savings, the DUP’s Alex Easton claimed there was too much waste already in the system.
Mr Easton, of the Health Committee told the Assembly Health Minister Michael McGimpsey was in danger of being labelled the minister for cuts.
“He has the chance to change and stop some of the cutbacks. Will he be known as the minister for spin and cuts, the same as the Labour Party’s (Lord) Peter Mandelson or will he be the minister who delivers a first class health service?” he asked.
“I certainly would not want to be known as the Mandy of the Ulster Unionist Party.”
There are wider plans to cut almost 2,500 health service jobs over the next three years.
The Royal College of Nurses (RCN) has said more nurses, not fewer, were needed.
Mr McGimpsey has pointed to £700m of savings which he is expected to make over the next three years. Scores of residential homes also face closure.
Mr Easton outlined a string of areas where he said money could be better saved.
- Tackling the non-attendance at out patient appointments, 196,000 across the province.
- Reducing almost 14,000 cancelled clinics to improve waiting list figures.
- Resolving medical negligence claims of almost £14m.
- Cutting the near £6m bill for independent sector providers.
- Minimising the near £7m mail spending.
- Saving some of nearly £8m for phone bills.
Energy costs are running at nearly £29m, travel expenses at £32m and there was £180,000 bonuses to senior staff despite worsening financial conditions, Mr Easton added.
The minister said every penny released through greater efficiencies would be reinvested in health.
“The trust efficiency proposals already cover these basic housekeeping and productivity issues and factor in considerable reductions from administration,” he said.
“These members need to enter the real world. Yes, there are savings to be made in these areas and I expect trusts to maximise them but penny-pinching on postage is just not enough.
“We have to change what we do, not just how we do it.”
He said efficiency savings were not cuts. He has thrown out proposals like reducing adult day centres, charging for domiciliary care for the most vulnerable and closing Belfast City Hospital’s A&E service.
Health Committee chair Iris Robinson said there was major concern about the effect on frontline services.
“It is difficult to understand how this will not have a very serious impact on the care and treatment provided to patients,” she said.
Stephen Farry said the Executive had agreed to a Thatcherite budget which was making itself felt.
Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill said loss of nursing jobs would devastate frontline services and added her party would fight any attempted cuts.