Belfast Telegraph

Tip of the iceberg cuts 'will be even worse next year': Health services will be decimated, say unions

By Victoria O'Hara

Savage budget cuts set to impact the most vulnerable in society are just the ‘tip of the iceberg’, unions have warned.

Stinging contingency plans aimed at saving millions of pounds across the ailing health service have resulted in minor injury units closed temporarily.

The number of beds in these units have also been cut and domiciliary services reduced for the elderly across the province.

Health Minister Jim Wells has to make £170million in savings, and he has already warned that the next financial year will be even tougher.

The move has evoked public anger and renewed concerns over the future of services previously under threat, including emergency departments in Newry and Lagan Valley.

In the plans, patients will now face longer hospital waiting times for tests and treatments because of cuts to elective care.

The following will also be hit:

  • Armagh minor injuries unit, which will close temporarily from November 17, with staff redeployed to work in the Emergency Department at Craigavon.
  • The Paediatric Ambulatory Unit in South Tyrone Hospital will also have its hours reduced from November 17.
  • Minor injury units will also temporarily close in Bangor, Whiteabbey and Armagh.
  • Elderly people will face a four-week waiting list for domiciliary care packages in non-urgent cases.

Northern Ireland’s only dedicated multiple sclerosis respite unit will also close until March 2015 in a move described as “devastating”.

The Regional Multiple Sclerosis Respite Centre, at Dalriada Hospital in Ballycastle, has 12 beds where patients can receive treatment.

Despite plans to merge the palliative care and rehabilitation wards at Tyrone County Hospital in Omagh being put on hold, almost 80 temporary workers will lose their jobs.

The merger is part of a £7million package of cutbacks to its budget that sparked a public outcry as it would mean terminally ill patients being treated in the same ward as patients who are recovering.

It has also emerged an addiction service in Ballymena that supports almost 300 people may be under threat.

One man who contacted the Belfast Telegraph said Railway Street Addiction Services (RWS) was a lifeline to him and his family.

“The staff and support I received from everyone in RWS is a big part of the reason why I and so many other service users are alive today,” he added.

“Because of the support, help and guidance that I received, my children have their father back,  my wife has her husband back and my parents have their son back.

“When I went looking help. RWS was there. If they close or are downsized I know I would be dead or in jail, as would a vast majority of 271 clients who avail of the services provided by RWS.”

Ferghal McKinney, a member of the Stormont Health Committee, said it was still to emerge how deep the impact of the cuts would actually be, and he called for greater clarity over who will actually be affected.

He also said the news “brings into question” the Transforming Your Care plan, which aimed to move more services from the hospital into the community.

“There is a lack of clarity over who exactly is going to be affected and what is happening,” he added. There is a complete lack of connection between what is happening and the complete Transforming Your Care Plan, which was about putting services back into the community and closer at home.

“I’m flabbergasted by these cuts and worried that the trusts are doing this to satisfy the budgets and the patient care is lost.”

He also claimed services that had faced threats in the past such as A&E services at Daisy Hill in Newry and Lagan Valley could once again face further cuts.

Ray Rafferty from Unison said: “The closure of other beds in nearby trusts and minor injury units is going to have a knock-on effect in demand for beds in Belfast and put an even greater pressure on the A&E in the Royal and the Mater. The problems now will seem minute compared to the potential problems next winter.

“I don’t want to be an alarmist, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. When it comes to the next financial year, there is going to be major pressure on the Trusts to cut back.

“That will mean closures. That will have serious impacts on waiting lists and EDs will slow down.

“We have already seen patients sitting in armchairs waiting for a bed at the end of the ward. That is just going to get worse.”

Kevin McAdam from Unite said the future of A&E departments at certain hospitals including Daisy Hill could be at risk.

“It is inevitable there will be more closures,” he added. “I’ve no fear that this is very much the tip of the iceberg and that there will be more cuts ahead.

“Everybody has been making it quite clear.

“They use the word temporary, but the Trusts were instructed to use the word temporary to avoid the need for a consultation process. But they really mean closed for good.”

“Next year, they have already been told that it will be much worse.

“I don’t want to scaremonger, but places like Coleraine and Daisy Hill are very much under threat.

“What we are worried about is the next cut.

“You are going to look at the complete closure of the Mid Ulster Hospital, Whiteabbey and Bangor.”

Will you lose out as new spending constraints kick in?

The cuts across Northern Ireland include:

  • The temporary closure of 27 intermediate care/rehabilitation beds, including seven beds in Mid-Ulster. This includes 20 beds in Dalriada
  • Six medical beds temporarily closed at Lagan Valley Hospital
  • The temporary closure of nine medical beds at Downe Hospital
  • Merging of the coronary care unit at Downe Hospital with the remaining medical beds and reduction in all elective surgery
  • Six medical beds temporarily closed at Lagan Valley Hospital
  • The temporary closure of 20 GP beds at Bangor Hospital Minor Injury Unit
  • Bangor, Whiteabbey and Armagh minor injury units also to temporarily shut
  • Reduction in hours at Paediatric Ambulatory Unit in South Tyrone Hospital from 17 November 2014
  • Domiciliary care: introducing a 4 week waiting list for non-urgent packages
  • The postponing of a new nurse-led minor injuries service at Lagan Valley
  • At Tyrone County Hospital in Omagh, the Paediatric Ambulatory Unit is set to have its hours reduced
  • Unfunded Scanning Bureau service in the South West Acute Hospital stopped
  • Daycare services provision at Spruce, Omagh and Westbridge House, Enniskillen, stopped and service users relocated to an alternative service locally.
  • Cardiac Assessment Unit and the Urgent Care and Treatment Centre will merge between 8pm and 8am
  • Across the Western Health and Social Care Trust, 77 part-time staff including locum doctors to lose their jobs.
  • All cuts will take place by December 1

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