Final day for public to have say on £70m health service cuts
MEMBERS of the public have just 24 hours left to have their say on £70m of proposed cuts to the health service as a controversial consultation comes to an end.
Branded a 'sham' by trade unions last week, the six-week exercise - it is normally 12 - will be followed by simultaneous meetings across the health trusts on October 13 where they must sign off on where the axe should fall.
Hospital ward closures, a reduction in nursing home placements and slashing fertility treatments are among a raft of measures being put forward to enable trusts to break even in their budgets.
The cuts - or 'savings' as officials describe them - were ordered by the most senior civil servant at the Department of Health, Richard Pengelly, in August to tackle a multi-million pound shortfall.
The Irish News understands that a number of private one-on-one meetings have taken place between senior trust figures and department chiefs in recent weeks, where assurances have been sought over trusts balancing their books.
There is also speculation that a £40m bailout is imminent through a re-allocation of Stormont funds.
The consultation documents outline plans that will have a 'major impact', such as a big reduction in locum staff and a cut in home help packages, as well as those that will have a less significant impact such as administration and procurement costs.
It is expected any extra money will be directed at frontline services under threat of suspension. However, the financial crisis in the sector means that other cuts could be underway by the end of this month.
Dr George O'Neill, a high-profile GP from west Belfast, last night criticised the 'silence' from non-executive members of trust boards on the proposed cuts.
"Why are these representatives being bulldozed into signing off on cuts that will affect the most vulnerable people?The non-executives are appointed to trust boards to look out for the interests of their communities - yet we haven't heard a whimper from them," he said.
Meanwhile, campaigners in Derry will stage a final protest today against Western health trust proposals to close one of its two remaining care homes in the city as part of the savings plans.
Elderly residents living in either William Street or Rectory Field will be forced to leave their home if the trust proposals are sanctioned next week.
Members of the Stop the Cuts group will hold a 'solidarity rally' today close to the Rectory Field facility.