Healthcare news

Nursing and medical chiefs back bureaucracy axe

Janice Smyth, director of the Royal College of Nursing
Seanín Graham

THE head of the biggest nursing union in Northern Ireland has said it "beggars belief" that salaries of staff at the Health and Social Care Board rose by 20 per cent in one year - to almost £30m.

Janice Smyth, director of the Royal College of Nursing, welcomed Wednesday's announcement there is to be increased accountability in the health service amid major reform of management structures.

Two years ago Ms Smyth called for "close scrutiny" of the board's spending on wages and creation of additional jobs at a time when community nursing posts were being axed.

Despite a pledge that spending would be reduced at the HSCB, the cost of salaries reached £29.6m in March 2015, with 584 staff employed compared with 549 the previous year at a cost of £25.7m.

"These salaries are all the more surprising given the questions were being raised at the highest level two years previously about the use of public money in relation to the board's workforce," Ms Smyth said.

Reacting to Wednesday's ministerial announcement that the board is to abolished, the nursing chief said she hoped it was a "courageous first step" in trying to re-organise a failing system.

“Nurses are really struggling at the moment and I hope this is a since attempt to radically improve the health service," she said.

"The minister is ultimately accountable for what happens and the College does believe that accountability structures need to be clarified across the entire system."

The British Medical Assocation (BMA), the biggest doctors’ union, also welcomed the the overhaul and drive to slash bureaucracy.

Dr Tom Black, chair of the BMA's GP committee said: "We look forward to responding to the consultation and would welcome the opportunity to be part of the panel of experts as we are well placed to highlight the clinical issues facing our members.

"The BMA were pleased to see the recognition of the work already done by GP federations in Northern Ireland, and would be keen to see the funding needed for them to be fully operational to be released as soon as possible.

"In relation to the organisation of services, we have always said what Northern Ireland needs is the right services in the right place at the right time for patients, and the minister seems to be in agreement."

The union's GPs committee has sought an early meeting with Mr Hamilton to ensure that their position as 'independent contractors' is maintained within the planned changes.

"General practice is the foundation for much of the health service," Dr Black said.

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