Belfast Telegraph

Protesters voice their anger during heated public health cuts meeting

By Leona O'Neill

Union officials pledged to fight for the health service as they railed against proposed cuts at a heated meeting in Londonderry.

Donal O'Cofaigh, chair of Unite, quoted Welsh politician Nye Bevan's words that "the NHS will last as long as there's folk with faith left to fight for it".

He then pledged: "We will fight for our NHS."

Closing an old people's home in Londonderry is among the proposals put forward by the Western Trust, who have to make savings of £12.5m.

The Trust's board held a public meeting yesterday at their headquarters in Altnagelvin Hospital to outline proposals for saving money and explain the impact it may have on services provided.

These include cuts in the cost of locum doctors with a cap of the rates paid to them, reductions in agency staff costs and a reduction of 40 elective inpatient beds across Altnagelvin and South West Hospitals.

Proposals were also on the table for a temporary reduction of domiciliary care and nursing home packages, a remodel of neonatal service provision at South West Hospital and constraints on goods and services budgets.

One of the most controversial proposals was to merge two elderly residential homes at Rectory Field and William Street, closing one site and moving residents to the other.

Another proposal is to reduce elective surgery, which the Trust admitted would increase waiting list times.

Around 60 members of the public, as well as several political and union representatives, were in attendance at yesterday's meeting.

To several calls from the audience of "reject the cuts" and "just say no", Niall Birthistle, acting chair of the Western Trust, told those gathered that the Trust was under "severe financial pressure" and that the board had an obligation to move ahead with a plan of how savings could be made.

During what was at times a heated meeting many members of the public voiced their disgust and several elected representatives spoke.

Former People Before Profit MLA Eamonn McCann said that "we should fight for every penny" and that "we should consider the option of mass civil disobedience".

Fellow PBP representative Shaun Harkin said that if we needed more money, "just ask Theresa May to shake the magic money tree".

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph after the meeting, Western Trust Chief Executive, Dr Anne Kilgallen, said that it has been a "very difficult process to arrive at the proposals" put forward and that she felt people "spoke from the heart" at the public meeting.

"We have had limited options," she said. "The safety of the patients and clients under our care is our utmost priority and we have borne this in mind in developing our proposals.

"The Trust sought to protect emergency and unscheduled care, red flag, cancer patients, looked-after children, frail people and people with a disability."

She stressed that the savings plan was a public consultation, that no decision has been made and that it was by no means a "done deal".

She said there was no jobs threat to Trust employees and that patient care and safety was a top priority.

Belfast Telegraph

Daily News Headlines Newsletter

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox.

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph