Health cuts put 4,000 jobs at risk
Up to 4,000 jobs could be lost through Northern Ireland health cuts.
The reductions could come over the next four years as the Department of Health struggles to cope with a £828 million shortfall by 2015.
Some of the predicted job losses will be through natural wastage and retirement but there may be some compulsory redundancies.
Health officials have also warned waiting lists could get longer while new patients may not be able to access the most up-to-date drugs.
New buildings may also lie empty and people could be asked to contribute towards the cost of their community care package.
Health Minister Michael McGimpsey said: "Overwhelmingly the population out there believe strongly in the health service and want to support the health service."
The Department of Health published its draft plans for its budget for the next four years.
The minister said there would be a massive reduction in the number of home-care packages and while the satellite radiotherapy unit in the grounds of Altnagelvin hospital in Londonderry will be built, there will be no cash to run it or the Fire and Rescue Service training college at Desertcreat, Co Tyrone.
Demographic change with the population getting older and living longer as well as demand for new drugs are among the pressures the department is facing. Dealing with flu and the impact of snow also represent potential problems.
The consultation document said: "On the basis of the proposed allocation for DHSSPS (Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety), the extent of shortfall against assessed need by 2014-15 is more than £800 million (15%) (running costs).
"This presents a significant and real challenge for the department to deliver effective health, social care and public safety services in a way that ensures the most effective use of all available resources and effective service delivery across all areas in the context of increased demand across services and the fastest growing and ageing population in the United Kingdom."
Health accounts for half of the Northern Ireland Executive's budget. Healthcare was intended to be protected with the cuts levied against the social care responsibilities of the department.
Department of Finance sources said they could not micro-manage how the minister divided his budget and the pressures were up to him to manage.
Stormont health committee chairman Jim Wells said the Ulster Unionist Health Minister should blame the Tories for budget constraints.
"The Health Minister would do well to remember that it was his colleagues in the Conservative Party who have gave the Executive such a challenging budget," he said.
"There is little point in the minister launching salvos at people in Northern Ireland when he was happy to campaign to get the Tories elected last May, despite repeated warnings that a Tory government would mean huge budget cuts for Northern Ireland."
There will be a freeze on new jobs under today's proposals, with officials warning the most vulnerable could be among the hardest hit.
Unison health workers' union regional secretary for Northern Ireland Patricia McKeown said the consultation document signalled a real crisis.
She said there was a £2.3 billion black hole in the budget over the next four years because the cuts have taken away the ability of the health service to meet ever increasing needs and rising costs for items such as drugs over which it has no control.
"This is not time for grandstanding or throwing shapes in preparation for the May elections. This is the health and social care future of the people," she warned.
"This is massive job loss in Northern Ireland's largest employer. This needs a new set of budget decisions now."
She added: "The only solution is for the Executive to find a means of funding this gap. This means telling the UK Government that its cuts are putting the health of the people at risk."