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Key health service plan for 2015/16 still on shelf

The Health and Social Care Board offices in Linen Hall Street. The Board draws up the annual commissioning plan
Seanín Graham

A KEY health service plan that determines what services the NHS can afford annually remains on a shelf - even though the second quarter of the financial year is underway.

The annual 'Commissioning Plan' by the Health and Social Care Board sets out what frontline services the north's health trusts should deliver between April 1, 2015 and March 31 next year - and more crucially what will fall under the axe.

Last month The Irish News was leaked a draft copy of the 280-page blueprint which for the first time carried a devastating "risk assessment" on the effect of cuts on a whole range of patient services.

Cancer patients, pregnant women, Cystic Fibrosis sufferers and seriously ill babies requiring neo-natal care were among those affected by major funding shortages.

The confidential blueprint also revealed that 170,000 - one in ten of the population - will wait a year for a consultant appointment by next March, despite the target being nine weeks. They will then wait a further year for treatment.

The draft has now been published on the HSCB's website but has been re-shaped so that the hard-hitting section has been significantly reduced – and instead scattered throughout the report.

Concerns have been raised by health professionals about the delay and what it means for a severely cash-strapped health service.

A section outlines that £89million is required to develop to sustain services - which the authors hope they will receive from the Executive's June monitoring round – but it is understood this funding may not be secured.

A spokeswoman for the Board said the document is currently with the Department of Health for "consideration and approval".

"Each year the Health and Social Care Board and Public Health Agency (PHA) publish a Commissioning Plan which describes the actions that will be taken to support the health and wellbeing of the population in Northern Ireland within available resources," she said.

Part of the draft focuses on cuts to nursing posts and "reduced access" for cancer patients seeking the support of specialist oncology nurses.

Janice Smyth, director of the Royal College of Nurses in the north, said the stalled publication of the plan was worrying in terms of accountability.

"How does a health trust operate its business when you they don't know if there is enough money for a particular service. How can finances be properly managed?," she said.

"Where is the leadership around this in our health service. If you don't have a plan, you can't have proper accountability."

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