Healthcare news

Chief of axed health board praises work of staff

Valerie Watts, chief executive of the Health and Social Care Board
Seanín Graham

THE head of the Health and Social Care Board has praised the "real difference" its work has made to people's lives.

Valerie Watts, who was appointed chief executive of the powerful body 16 months ago, was unavailable for an interview with The Irish News on Wednesday but released a statement responding to the health minister's announcement that it will be axed by April 2017.

Ms Watts revealed last year that she planned to carry out an internal review of her workforce after this newspaper reported there had been a 20 per cent increase in staff numbers and salaries over a two-year period - at a time of frontline cuts and ministerial concerns about the effectiveness of the Board.

She also criticised the "demoralising influence" of the media and said she would like to set up a television station airing NHS "success stories" in a bid to counter "negative" newspaper reporting.

According to its latest annual report, the HSCB had 584 staff - all of whom are employed in an administrative role - on salaries totalling £29.6m, a staggering increase of £4m from the previous year.

However, a board spokeswoman said on Wednesday salary costs for its 605 staff had been reduced to £23.5m.

It is understood a department directive ordering a reduction in spending is linked to the drop.

The spokeswoman said: "The figure quoted in the annual accounts as at the end of March 2015 includes in-year non recurrent income received from other departments for which the Board employed staff on their behalf, and is before a 15 per cent reduction applied in 2015/16."

The internal review ordered by Ms Watts, which was carried out by private consultancy firm Ernst Young and has been seen by the Irish News, spelt out serious problems in the leadership, bureaucracy and culture of the organisation and raised concerns about communication, accountability and transparency.

Ms Watts admitted on Wednesday the review flagged up concerns but paid tribute to the "the dedication and commitment of all of my staff".

She said: "Like many organisations and public services, there are always opportunities to change and improve, both internally but also across our very complex health and social care system.

"We are fully committed to minimising any impact on staff and ensuring that we fully utilise their skills, expertise and commitment moving forward.

"The important work carried out by the HSCB in planning health and social care services will continue, as will our absolute focus on ensuring people in Northern Ireland have access to safe, quality and sustainable services now and into the future."

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