Northern Ireland health trusts face deficit of £20m while strike action threat looms
Northern Ireland's health trusts are facing a deficit of £20m this financial year, it has been revealed.
UTV reported the multi-million pound black hole after viewing confidential documents and stated that the money must be found by March 2020.
The news comes as potential strike action by health workers over pay and working conditions looms over the Department of Health.
Public services union Unison will ballot its members next week over potential strike action, while the Royal College of Nursing balloted its members for the first time in its history last week.
Both unions have warned that many months of targeted strike action is very possible.
Pat Cullen from the Royal College of Nursing said: "We absolutely understand that there's a finite budget in Northern Ireland and that money is at a premium, however, anyone that believes they can provide services in healthcare without nurses is absolutely deluding themselves."
Meanwhile, Mark Taylor from the Royal College of Surgeons added that there must be a "wider public conversation" about the Northern Ireland health service and how it is funded.
"The difficulty is there is a limited budget [in Northern Ireland] and with that limited budget decisions have to be made," he said.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health said that the financial position facing the health and social care sector remains extremely challenging.
"Trusts are required to live within their budgets," the spokesperson continued.
"In the event of any major or high impact savings measures being needed, these would be subject to public consultation.
"The NI health budget - like other parts of Government - has been under pressure for a number of years.
"Intensive work is undertaken each year to live within the budget and do the best we can with the resources at our disposal," they added.