Northern Ireland news

Calls for creation of one 'super trust' to cut bureaucracy in cash-strapped health service

Hospitals are to be hit by proposed cuts to save £70m, with fewer agency staff and increased waiting times
Seanín Graham

A LEADING doctor has called for the axing of the north's five health trusts and creation of one 'super trust' to cut down on bureaucracy as the sector struggles to find £70 million in savings.

Dr George O'Neill also hit out at the large NHS quangos that exist for a population the size of 1.8 million, saying only one Department of Health is required - given its current workforce of 460 staff in Castle Buildings on salaries of £22m.

The Belfast GP criticised the necessity for political sign-off on key NHS programmes such as new bowel cancer screening tests and said the health service urgently required a senior decision maker in charge of 'operational day-to-day matters'.

"What we do not need is politicians in the daily running of the health service. We rue the day we let this happen as in their absence everything has stopped," said Dr O'Neill.

In addition to the department, there are more than 500 administrative staff at the Health and Social Care Board who were paid £26.6m last year, and almost 300 staff at the Public Health Agency, with annual wages of £16m.

The Board was due to be scrapped in March but will continue until 2019 as it requires ministerial sign-off.

The medic's comments come as the staff at the north's five health trusts reel from devastating proposals for budget cuts, which have been put out to public consultation for the first time.

Slashed spending on agency doctors and nurses, suspended nursing home admissions and drastic cuts to care packages and fertility treatments are among measures on the table.

Dr O'Neill said he believes the cuts will go ahead and will impact on the most vulnerable services with pensioners, learning disability services and children's care among those hardest hit.

He criticised the 'stony silence' from non-executive directors of health trust boards in response to the proposals, which the bodies say they've been forced to make by the Department of Health.

"Why can't these proposals be refused as they will have devastating consequences on older people and other vulnerable groups? The non-executive directors are there to represent the public but we haven't heard anything."

He added: "I understand we need administration in trusts but we do not need five layers of it in addition to the department's, the Board's and the PHA. The trusts should be merged into one body with the department directing on policy."

Meanwhile, an unprecedented joint statement has been issued by the Royal Colleges, with representatives from eight medical branches describing the current situation as "unsustainable".

"On behalf of medical professionals across Northern Ireland, we call on political leaders to hear our concerns and take urgent action to address them," it said.

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