Northern Ireland

Stormont health budgets risks ‘serious harm’ to public, warn health leaders

A joint statement was issued from the chairs of all of Northern Ireland’s health trusts

Men are disproportionately affected by conditions that lead to more premature death, the study suggests
The Department of Health also said last week that the current budget would have a "cumulative, catastrophic impact" on services. (Jeff Moore/PA)

THE chairs of Northern Ireland’s health trusts have warned that the “inadequate” Stormont budget is risking “serious harm” to the public.

A joint statement signed from the five health trust and ambulance service chairs said: “As health and social care leaders, we are deeply concerned at the financial outlook for the frontline services which our organisations deliver.

“We have no wish to be involved in political controversy and are very mindful of the growing budgetary pressures on all parts of the public sector.”

Stating their focus was on everyone who needed health and social care services, they said: “It is our duty to warn of the very real potential for avoidable and serious harm being caused to people in our community who require our help, as a result of inadequate budgetary provision.”

Recognising the “onerous responsibility” of HSC Trusts to make efficient use of all public resources, they noted intensive efforts to deliver savings in a budget assessment from the Department of Health last week.

The department had previously estimated an extra £1bn was needed on top of last year’s opening budget, even after £200m of savings and anticipated extra income.

Instead, the 2024/25 budget allowed for an extra £515m of funding with the department assuming a further £100m would be forthcoming from Barnett Consequentials.

The assessment said this still left a £400m gap before breaking even, broadly split between a £250m shortfall between the trusts and an estimated £150m for a 3% pay uplift in 2024/25.

This meant there would be no provision for pay demands this year and that industrial action would continue.

The health chairs added: “As this document makes clear, even with these savings, a projected very significant shortfall remains that could only be filled by measures with high and catastrophic impacts.”

They said this would inevitably include bed closures and reductions in outpatient care, operating lists, domiciliary care and nursing care packages.

“This would impact damagingly on the whole community in Northern Ireland, particularly the most vulnerable,” they said.

“We are keenly aware of the need to reform services and invest in new technology. We know too that health drives our economy and contributes on numerous levels to well-being in society.

“The reality is that without significant additional funding this year and longer-term financial security, the Health Service will be further destabilised and the public will bear the brunt.”

Highlighting the concerns on behalf of “our dedicated workforce” and those relying on services, the chairs said they would to work constructively to improve outcomes.

“Health and social care services have endured a prolonged period of instability and pressure. The escalating budgetary situation represents another destabilising factor.”