Belfast Telegraph

Unions and politicians lay into Belfast Trust over its £26m cuts plan

By Eamon Sweeney

Anger boiled over at a meeting of the Belfast Trust where a draft savings plan aimed at pulling back more than £26 million was outlined.

Unison regional secretary Patricia McKeown launched a verbal broadside at trust members, imploring them not to vote for sending their proposals forward to public consultation.

"I am calling on non-executive directors in particular not to give approval to these proposals," she urged.

"Send them back to the Department of Health, and if that gets you nowhere go to the Secretary of State.

"Make it clear that the health care of people in Northern Ireland should not be a matter of political leverage.

"The trust board has to send the message back to the Department of Health that you have a duty of care to the public and legal obligations, and you cannot make these proposals work."

The trust's proposals for finding the £26.3m it needs to save include cuts to admin and management costs, minimising spending on "general discretionary" items such as hospitality and advertising, and the planned transfer of its PFI car parking scheme to the trust.

Referring to the proposed six-week period of public consultation on the cuts, Ms McKeown called it a "creature of the Department of Health" and accused the Belfast Trust of being in breach of its own equality scheme.

"You also have legal obligations under human rights legislation," she added. "Can you explain how you are going to do that if you deny older people care packages. You already have 400 people waiting for them and you plan to increase the number waiting over the next five months.

"Belfast Trust is being asked to make proposals that will affect people's health. Your senior team has already said that you are putting people's lives at risk."

West Belfast MP Paul Maskey queried why the draft document was released almost simultaneously with the start of yesterday's meeting. He said it gave little time for it to be examined.

"In future this shouldn't be allowed to happen," he said.

"You also said that the plan was put together in a small number of weeks. Did you speak to the medical profession? Did you speak to the trade unions?

"I don't think it is acceptable and I also think a six-week period of consultation is unacceptable."

Kevin McAdam, regional secretary of the Unite union, said he believed the proposals were "not just an attack on the elderly, but on the NHS as it approaches its 70th birthday".

"This document says it is a savings plan but it really means cuts," he added.

"They are using the excuse that there is no local minister in place.

"Boards can implement £70m in cuts but they can't implement a miserly one per cent pay rise for health service staff that has been overdue since April.

"You are saying that these cuts will be temporary. What do you mean by the term temporary?

"The accident and emergency department at Belfast City Hospital shut six years ago. That was a temporary measure. So, I am worried that these measures will become permanent too." South Belfast SDLP MLA Claire Hanna said questions had to be asked about how the ­overall monetary situation with the health service "got to this stage".

"There is no way that these proposals are strategically viable without causing risk," she argued.

"They are penny wise and pound foolish and will have long-term effects on people."

Afterwards, Ulster Unionist MLA Roy Beggs said the proposals were based on what would save the most amount of money in the quickest time, rather than what was best for patients.

"That is no way to run the NHS," he said.

"The vision of Transforming Your Care appears to be dead. Patients need help. They are losing faith that they'll never see the additional money promised by the DUP and Sinn Fein.

"Never before has our health service faced such as crisis, and yet right now in the absence of a minister it is totally leaderless."

What is being cut... and where? The trusts’ proposals at a glance

NORTHERN TRUST: £13m

Temporary proposals include:

  • Reduce expenditure on high-cost medical locum and agency nursing staff
  • Close two wards in Whiteabbey Hospital and day ward
  • Close beds in Antrim Area Hospital and Causeway Hospital
  • Reduce non-urgent elective day surgery
  • Reduce number of community-based rehabilitation beds

Northern Trust chief executive Tony Stevens said: “We are part of a system that is under significant financial pressure but the HSC system is working collaboratively to find solutions.

“We will prioritise services to protect the sickest and most vulnerable.”

SOUTHERN TRUST: £6.4m

Proposals include:

  • Savings from natural turnover rates for staff leaving and joining the Trust
  • Efficiencies on non-direct patient/client care goods and services areas of expenditure
  • Efficiencies from bulk buying of water filters
  • Planned service developments are now unlikely to be implemented before April 2018

Interim chief executive Francis Rice said: “We must keep within the funding allocated to the Southern Trust, so our savings plan proposals must show how we will do that.

“Our savings will be targeted to ensure there is a limited impact on direct patient care, and to protect our core services.”

BELFAST TRUST: £26.3m

Proposals include:

  • Reduction in admin and management costs
  • Minimising spend on“general  discretionary” expenditure such as hospitality, advertising, courses and conferences
  • Planned transfer of its PFI car parking scheme to the Trust
  • Review and reprioritisation of its planned backlog programme

A spokesman said: “The Trust has responded to this difficult task by firstly identifying actions that, if taken, would impact on how the Trust works but have no or low impact on front line services.”

SOUTH EASTERN TRUST: £10.85m

Proposals include:

  • A £1m reduction in locum doctor spend across the Trust
  • Temporarily reduce locum costs
  • £1.05m reduction in agency staff with the aim of reducing agency costs by 25%
  • Replacing a range of agency and locum staff or overtime with in-house staff
  • Savings in administrative and management areas

A spokesman said: It is important to remember that no decisions have yet been made. These proposals are temporary, and aimed to achieve savings in-year.”

WESTERN TRUST: £12.5m

Proposals include:

  • Reduce the usage of a range of external service providers and consumables, and put in place a range of controls on limiting expenditure
  • Further constraint on pay budgets, including vacancy control across a range of support services and on call
  • Accelerate projects which will deliver increased efficiency and reduced costs
  • Increase the hourly rate for paid car parking at the three hospital sites within a new tiered charging scheme and revisit revenue schemes to secure savings where possible.

A spokesman for the trust said: The Trust has responded to this difficult task by aiming to identify actions, that if taken, would impact on how the Trust works but have no or low impact on front line services.”

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