Ulster Hospital ‘at risk if health budget is cut’
Thousands of NHS jobs will be lost and hospital units in Northern Ireland will close if the Executive cuts the health budget, it has been claimed.
In a stark warning to his Assembly colleagues, Health Minister Michael McGimpsey also cast doubt on the future of a major acute hospital in Northern Ireland.
He said the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald would be at risk without a £130m investment to update the main building.
He also threatened not to sign up to the Executive’s final budget settlement if it did not adequately protect his department’s funding.
It is the first time the minister has gone on record about the possibility of widespread job losses and ward closures in his fight to protect his budget.
Earlier this year he gave assurances there will be no compulsory redundancies in the health service.
Unison, the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) have called for politicians to work together to resolve the situation. Janice Smyth, director of RCN in Northern Ireland, said: “We cannot continue to deliver the level of service with shrinking resources.
“If the health budget is cut we need honest debate from our politicians about what services we can afford to provide.”
Speaking after Assembly question time yesterday, Mr McGimpsey said: “The health service currently in Northern Ireland is seriously underfunded. When I look forward into the future I see potentially large numbers of redundancies, I see potential closures as well.”
When pressed on the potential scale of jobs losses, the minister said: “I am not talking hundreds, I'm talking thousands, and I'm not scaremongering.”
A spokeswoman from the South Eastern Trust said: “The trust is on record in outlining the difficulties experienced in maintaining the fabric of the (Ulster Hospital) old building and the implications this has on delivering services.
“Enabling works will commence in January 2011 and it is therefore essential that this project proceeds within the stipulated timescale.”