Simon Hamilton announces Health & Social Care Board to close to anger of union Nipsa
HEALTH minister Simon Hamilton's announcement he is to dissolve the Health and Social Care Board before informing staff or doctors has been denounced as an "act of political opportunism".
Mr Hamilton said the board's functions will absorbed into his department and the five health trusts.
It follows a period of consultation after the DUP minister first mooted the proposal last year.
However, trade union Nipsa has dismissed the announcement as "an act of political opportunism" ahead of the assembly elections and said members had not been contacted before it was presented to the media.
There was no detail from the minister on how the board's 600 staff will be affected by the changes or if there will be job losses.
Meanwhile, John O'Kelly, Royal College of General Practitioners chairman, said the announcement "introduced a further element of uncertainty" for family doctors.
"It is vital that GPs and others working in the primary care sector are suitably involved in any decision making at a local level. But what our involvement will be has so far not been clarified.
"We strongly believe that a stand alone organisation, is better placed to link these individual groups together and independently assess need and allocate resources."
Mr Hamilton said health and social care will be "more streamlined and to reduce complexity", with the department "taking firmer strategic control of the system" and trusts having more responsibility for planning care and "the operational independence to deliver it".
The Public Health Agency will remain but focus on "prevention and early intervention".
Mr Hamilton said his proposals have been endorsed by consultation responses, but acknowledged while there is "broad agreement" current structures are "too complex, too bureaucratic and too slow to support transformation" there is concern about who will be responsible for commissioning of services after the board is gone.
He said he wanted the trusts to "take on additional responsibility for care in their areas", have more autonomy, and to be held more accountable.
The department will now manage trusts through a `Performance Directorate', while remodelled structures would integrate "primary care (trusts) and the voluntary and community sector".
Kevin McCabe of Nipsa said it had "tried and failed to contact the board’s chief executive, Valerie Watts" after learning of the minister's plans "through press releases to the media... (about) critical decisions that impact significantly on our members lives.
"It is absolutely disgraceful that yet again before a holiday period staff are left in a heightened state of anxiety and distress as to where their futures may lie."
He said the announcement "is clearly politically expedient and opportunistic as we now head into a period of purdah as the May elections loom".
Sinn Féin health outgoing health committee chair Maeve McLaughlin said there is problem with "duplication and a lack of accountability" and "bringing all controls under the auspices of the department seems like the logical step".
But added: "The big issue now is how will this change effect staff and functions"