Belfast Telegraph

Trade union slams 'brutal' NHS cuts and questions lack of consultation

By Cate McCurry

A trade union official has slammed major cuts to the health budget as "brutal".

It comes after Northern Ireland's five health trusts were told to find savings of £70m in the current financial year.  Health trade unions are expected to be in talks with the Department of Health financial officials ahead of a series of public consultation meetings today.

Speaking ahead of the talks, Unite health spokesman Kevin McAdam said: "It would appear that the trade unions are being drawn into a game of bluff between the department, the commissioners and the trusts regarding the financial situation in health," he said.

"Despite the absence of a commissioning plan, the trusts are announcing pre-emptive actions to implement savings plans.

"It cannot be insignificant that all health trade unions have been asked to a teleconference on Thursday with the Department of Health's financial officers in relation to budgets.

"This whole episode is highly unusual in that no prior consultation regarding spending cuts or 'savings plans' have been raised with trade unions as would be the norm.

"Indeed, the coordination of trust board meetings at the same time and at such short notice is also a point of concern. Unite will have representatives at these meetings and will listen and respond accordingly.

"Trust costs are made up of 72% staff costs and we do not see how the trusts can make the sort of savings other than through impacting our members."

Sinn Fein's seven MPs and a number of MLAs are expected to attend the health service consultations taking place across Northern Ireland today.

The meetings will take place at the Ulster Hospital, Craigavon Hospital, Knockbracken Healthcare Park, Antrim Area Hospital and Altnagelvin Hospital.

Mid Ulster MP Francie Molloy said: "Our front-line services including health and education are obviously under severe pressure as a result of sustained austerity cuts on our block grant by the Tory government, now supported by the DUP.

"The best way to mitigate against that is through a sustainable and credible Executive which is properly resourced to combat the impact of Tory-DUP austerity."

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said the potential cuts represented a "real crisis" in public services.

"This should be a priority for all parties, as cuts would have a major impact on the lives of many people," he added.

"It puts into sharp focus the urgent need for restoration of devolved government. Based on its current configuration, the rate of healthcare inflation is over 5% each year."

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