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GP calls for leaked cuts plan to be published

Claire Keatinge, Older People's Commissioner for NI
Seann Graham

A high-profile doctor has called for a leaked NHS report on devastating cuts to be published in full to "ensure transparency" across the health service.

Dr George ONeill said the cutbacks to frontline services outlined in a Health and Social Care Board draft plan for 2015/16  as revealed in yesterdays Irish News  would have "major implications" for both patients and staff.

The north Belfast GP, who formerly worked with the Board as chair of a local commissioning group, said it was "appalling" that the document "in its current form" had not been made public.

The Board has confirmed that members were scheduled to consider the plan last month, but requested more time to consider it.

Cancer patients, pregnant women, Cystic Fibrosis sufferers and babies requiring neo-natal care will be among those affected by savage cuts over the next year, according to the 279-page commissioning report.

"This was on the Board's agenda at its last meeting and was suddenly pulled at the last minute," said Dr ONeill.

"It will impact at every level on the delivery of health and social services across Northern Ireland  with GPs facing even bigger caseloads as massive delays continue for consultant appointments and operations.

"People have a right to know about what lies ahead  could we not ensure there is openness and transparency following the (Liam) Donadson report?"

The confidential plan revealed that 170,000 patients  one in 10 of the population  may have to wait a year for a consultant appointment by next March, despite the target being nine weeks. They are then likely to wait a further year for treatment.

Also among those who will be severely hit with reduced services are the elderly, with home help packages in jeopardy.

During a meeting of the Stormont health committee yesterday, at which finance was discussed, senior Department of Health officials confirmed that domicillary care packages would be under threat if multi-million pound cuts go ahead.

They said services would benefit if 89m was made available in the Executive's June budget monitoring round.

Claire Keatinge, the Commissioner for Older People for Northern Ireland, said it is "essential" that services are there to meet need.

"I have recently raised my concerns about each of the trusts savings plans which I understand have been submitted to the Board," she said.

"These plans appear to be heavily weighted on services that older people rely on, and I have challenged the Board to properly assess the impact of cuts to services by insisting that a full region-wide Equality Impact Assessment be undertaken. Decisions around planning future services for older peoples needs must all be based on this same principle."

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