Public asked to consult on £70m plan to cut NHS services - but no sign of plan
THE north's five health trusts have given the public less than a week to forward questions on proposed 'savings plans' to cut £70 million from this year's services - except the details have not yet been published.
Department of Health officials last night confirmed that despite its budget being ring-fenced and supposedly protected from cuts for the next year, pressures to maintain frontline care mean trusts have to shave off £70m from their spending by March, 2018.
As a result, 'extraordinary' trust meetings are to be held next Thursday, with the 'item for discussion' being each organisation's financial plan for 2017/18, according to advertisements placed in the main daily newspapers yesterday.
The public notices also state that anyone wishing to address trust Board of directors 'in relation to this matter' should email them before noon next Tuesday.
The Irish News asked the trusts yesterday for a copy of their plans but they were unable to do so. It is understood they will not be published until the day of the meetings.
A six-week consultation period will then begin.
There is speculation that trusts will try to spend less on locum and agency staff while voluntary and community organisations may also be hit.
Earlier this year, the Irish News revealed the bill for agency nurses in the north's biggest health trust, the Belfast trust, had rocketed to £1m a month.
Janice Smyth, director of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), last night warned that the impact of further multi-million pound cuts on an already overstretched service would be "catastrophic".
"Unless services are closed I don't see how they can reduce the nursing workforce any further as we currently don't have enough staff," she said.
The nursing leader also said she thought it was 'questionable' that the public was being asked to submit questions on savings plans that had yet to be published.
"I welcome any attempt to engage with the public but how can health trusts have a meaningful engagement when the documents aren't available?"
Officials at the Department of Health said last night the "simple reality" is that despite its annual budget of £4.9 billion, there isn't enough funding to "keep pace" with service demands - and warned of the "potentially devastating impact" on care if cuts are not made.
"Despite the indicative departmental resource allocation the financial challenge for Health remains significant," a Department spokeswoman said.
"The trusts have been tasked with developing draft plans to deliver savings of £70m in 2017/18 as part of the overall financial plan for this year."