Belfast Telegraph

Grim future for Belfast hospitals: Beds shut, vital tests delayed, longer waits

An internal Belfast Trust document has revealed a range of cut back which will affect patient services

By Lisa Smyth

Cancelled operations, bed closures and delays in vital cancer treatments are the future of healthcare in some of Northern Ireland’s busiest hospitals, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

Cash-strapped chiefs at the Belfast Health & Social Care Trust have spelled out the dire situation facing the most vulnerable in society.

This includes:

  • The closure of 65 beds including critical care, medical, surgical and neurosurgical beds.
  • Delays in life-saving diagnostic tests and treatments for people with cancer.
  • Five hundred jobs to be axed which will lead to increased pressure on services and longer waiting lists.
  • At-risk children waiting over a month for initial assessment by social services.

The 150-page internal document, seen by the Belfast Telegraph, also admits the trust will breach Government targets for A&E waiting times.

It comes ahead of a meeting tomorrow to decide the future of the casualty unit at Belfast City Hospital — which treats in excess of 40,000 patients annually.

Patricia McKeown from public service union Unison said: “These plans are a disaster for patients.

“They are the first year of a four-year nightmare. Children, vulnerable adults, mental health patients, they are all going to lose out under these proposals.

“Everything we feared would happen as a result of the cuts is happening, and this is only the start of it.”

In June, the Health & Social Care Board approved its commissioning plan and asked the health trusts across Northern Ireland to draw up detailed plans of service delivery for the next four years.

The subsequent draft delivery plan put together by the Belfast Trust paints a grim picture for health and social care in the city.

In the document, trust bosses revealed they face a multimillion-pound cash shortfall meaning they have to implement a range of controversial cost-cutting measures.

They said 500 jobs will be cut and did not rule out compulsory redundancies.

They also warned: “The financial plan provided does not allow for any other unforeseen pressures, relating to safety and quality for example.

“If necessary the trust will look to defer service developments in 2011/12 in the first instance in order to deal with any emerging slippage on this plan.”

The document also lists several Government targets it will be unable to meet in the coming year, including waiting times for diagnostic tests, access to wheelchairs, cancer treatments and review appointments.

It said: “The trust is currently unable to achieve the 21-week waiting time target in a number of specialty areas, including neurology, neurosurgery, cardiology, opthalmology, urology, dermatology, rheumatology, immunology, specific dental specialties and community paediatrics.”

It also warned access to specialist drugs, for conditions such as MS, will be restricted.

The document also raised concerns over targets to keep MRSA cases under control.

It said there are “inadequate isolation facilities, inadequate bed spacing and inadequate cleaning hours to meet national standards”. The proposals are to be considered by the Belfast Health & Social Trust before being sent to the Health Minister and Health & Social Care Board for approval.

A spokesman from the Belfast Health & Social Care Trust said last night: “The trust would like to provide assurances to the public that there is funding available to provide drugs for MS sufferers, staff will receive the incremental pay increases they are due, the trust will continue to modernise hospital services which will mean that fewer hospital inpatient beds are needed now and in the future.”

He added that the trust continues to strive to meet Government targets for access to treatments and believes many will be met.

What the union says

“These plans are a|disaster for patients. Children, vulnerable adults, mental health patients, they are all going to lose out under these proposals. Everything we feared would happen as a result of the cuts is happening, and this is only the start of it.”

What the trust says

“There is funding available to provide drugs for MS sufferers, staff will receive the incremental pay increases they are due, the trust will continue to modernise hospital services, which will mean that fewer hospital inpatient beds are needed now and in the future.”

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