Councillors warn ‘most vulnerable will be the losers’ in Trust cuts

SDLP Councillor Tina Gardiner, Sinn Fein Councillor Christopher Jackson and DUP Councillor Hilary McClintock have all expressed concerns.
SDLP Councillor Tina Gardiner, Sinn Fein Councillor Christopher Jackson and DUP Councillor Hilary McClintock have all expressed concerns.

Councillors have expressed shock and horror over plans to cut £12.5m from the Western Trust’s health budget, with many warning the most vulnerable will suffer worst.

Specific concerns have been aired over the impact proposals to close either William Street or Rectory Field residential home will have on residents who are in their 80s and 90s.

Altnagelvin Hopsital, Derry. (PressEye)

Altnagelvin Hopsital, Derry. (PressEye)

Councillors sitting on the council’s Health and Community Committee were reacting after the Western Trust Board delivered a presentation on its £12.5m Savings Plan.

The Department for Health has ordered the Trust to implement the savings by the end of March 2018, as part of a wider programme of cuts across the north.

During the meeting in the Guildhall, Kieran Downey, Trust Director of Women & Children’s Services, told councillors that the Trust had a legal obligation to break even and as such had had no option but to develop the 12 proposals in the Plan, which they were now consulting on.

The plans include closing William Street Residential Home in the Bogside or Rectory Field in the Waterside and merging the residents under one roof; reducing domiciliary care and nursing home care packages; reducing spending on non-NHS locums, nursing, agency and social work staff; reviewing car parking charges and cutting back on the cleaning of offices.

Western Trust staff, meanwhile, will have their annual leave carry over allowance reduced or stopped completely, while planned recruitment in some areas will be frozen.

Routine procedures and surgery would be slashed by 50 per cent for day case patients, with further cuts for routine inpatient procedures in Altnagelvin Hospital, leading to bed closures.

The Trust’s Board said it had tried to protect services for the most vulnerable, including cancer patients; children in care and disabled people. Mr Downey said that once feedback is assembled a report will be considered at a special Board meeting on Friday, October 13 after which a draft savings plan will be submitted to the department. “The date doesn’t escape anybody’s notice,” he said.

DUP Colr. Hilary McClintock said: “You have had an awful situation imposed upon you. Even these ‘short-term’ cuts are going to have a long term implication in the future.”

Sinn Fein Colr. Christopher Jackson said: “It is frightening seeing these proposals in front of us.”

Colr. Jackson said Trust staff were already under extreme pressure and that this was likely to exacerbate this,

“To me, it will have an impact on frontline services undoubtedly. Some patients at the moment are waiting three or four years for elective care. Any cut at this moment in time is going to make those waiting times even longer. Routine procedures if not done can lead to complex medical problems. That might lead to further expense for the Trust. ”

He also branded proposals to close a residential home an attack on the most vulnerable” and said the care of residents in both facilities at present was second to none.

“For existing residents, this news is going to come as a great concern,” he said, adding that there should be specific consultation with the residents in both facilities.

The Trust Board members said that residents of these homes and staff will be consulted as part of the process.

SDLP Colr. Tina Gardiner described the proposed cuts as horrific. “There is no way we can be endorsing or supportive of this,” she said.

She also warned that a situation was developing were those that could afford to go private are getting the care they needed, while those without the means are at risk of poor care and late diagnosis.

“There doesn’t seem to be any leeway here. It feels like you are consulting and going to make the cuts anyway.“

Mr Downey said that there was for those in the medical profession on the Board “ a tension between professional responsibility and our responsibility to break even” adding later that this did not rest easy with the board.

Independent Colr. Paul Gallagher said the consultation was only going to pit people in the community against each other. “The weak and vulnerable will be the losers in that,” he said. He also asked what the Board had done to question the cuts from above.

Mr Downey said that since August 8, when the direction was given they had been fixed on trying to come up with proposals, adding that this was a ‘cash out’ situation, meaning the money is already gone from the Trust budget.

“The reality is as we sit here the cash is out of the system and we have to break even.”

Independent Colr. Patsy Kelly said further charges for hospital car parking will have a “huge impact for on low-income families, especially those attending on a daily basis.

“None of these cuts are reasonable and the waiting lists are going to be horrendous,” he added.

UUP Colr. Derek Hussey said that after hearing the presentation, he “would not want to be sitting here sick” and said that morale among staff within the Western Trust was very low at the moment.

“I appreciate this is a situation you are in. I am asking you, where’s the moral requirement in all of this?

“I am just dismayed by what I have heard,” he added.

Independent Colr. Gary Donnelly said the Trust plan was an attack on the “most vulnerable and the weakest in our society” and branded it “draconian” and “disastrous.”

He noted the residents of William Street and Rectory Field were people in their 80s and 90s. “How is this going to make them feel?” he asked.

Mr Downey said the Board was fixed on running the Trust with the resources it has. “We have a legal obligation to break even but we also have a moral obligation that sits and rests heavy with us. Safety will trump everything from an executive team’s perspective. We examine our moral consciences at all times.”

Colr. McClintock added: “There is no easy way to be making these cuts. It is not helpful for us to be blaming you.”

Various councillors called on political parties to ramp up efforts to get devolution back up and running to see if these cuts can be stopped as a matter of urgency.

*A public consultation meeting will held at the Verbal Arts Centre on Tuesday, September 26 from 7- 9pm.