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Northern Ireland health chiefs under fire after almost £4k spent on video

By Lisa Smyth

Cash-strapped health bosses have come under fire for spending a four-figure sum on an information video for patients due to have surgery.

The video, produced by the Northern Health and Social Care Trust, is aimed at reducing patients' anxiety ahead of an operation.

However, concerns have been raised that much of the information contained in the video is basic and as the footage has not been made widely available, the majority of people attending hospital for an operation will never see it.

The video, which cost £3,750 to produce, does not appear in a prominent position on the Trust's website and was last posted on the organisation's Facebook page on April 13.

Criticism of the spend on the video comes against a backdrop of a potential £160m shortfall in the NHS budget this financial year.

Last year the Trusts were ordered to find £70m of savings and they proposed cutting the number of operations, community care packages and use of agency staff to keep services going.

It is likely that similar proposals will be made again this year, meaning every penny being spent by NHS bosses is under close scrutiny.

The video includes a range of information, such as a reminder to bring slippers and a dressing gown to the hospital.

It gives advice on what will happen when a person arrives at the hospital, including the fact that the ticket machine at the entrance of the car park will dispense a ticket.

It also asks patients to report to the ward clerk when they arrive at the hospital.

Commenting on the video, chief executive of the Taxpayers' Alliance John O'Connell said the Trust has shown "a flagrant disregard for taxpayers".

He said: "Whilst this figure does not seem extortionate, it begs the questions whether similar examples of dubious spending are occurring on an all-too-regular basis. Whilst it is good to allay understandable patient concerns before a surgery, this is information which can easily be relayed by doctors in person, or with letters to confirm appointments."

Alliance Party health spokeswoman Paula Bradshaw said: "While I applaud the initiative taken by the Northern Health Trust to produce this necessary information in an alternative format to printed leaflets, I also hope that they are able to identify a wide range of mediums through which patients and their carers can access it as not all patients will have Facebook or Twitter accounts."

It is not the first time the Trust has hit the headlines over its finances.

In 2009, the then chief executive resigned after being asked to make massive savings in her budget, describing targets as "unachievable".

More recently, posters were put up in the canteen at Antrim asking people to ration their use of salt and pepper to help save money.

A spokeswoman from the Trust said staff are continually told that anxiety about surgery is greatly increased due to a lack of understanding about what is going to happen.

She continued: "This educational video was created to provide an easy-to-access central place for essential information that patients need to ease uncertainty and anxiety about the entire process, from the doctor telling a patient that they need surgery until they go home.

"Having the correct information is vital so that patients are aware of all the steps in the process and to avoid any unnecessary delay or cancellations to their planned procedure.

"A video is a clear and engaging way to provide this necessary information quickly and concisely.

"It also enables family members to watch it from different locations, or with their loved ones, when they are going in for surgery.

"The core video can now be further updated and edited easily in-house as required and without additional cost."

She said a campaign to promote the video and reduce written material is ongoing, including consultants telling their patients about it.

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