The Western Trust has issued proposals that could see it close one its two remaining residential care homes in Derry and implement a raft of other cuts.
The move comes after the Department of Health ordered the Trust to find savings of £12.5m.
Proposals to begin consultation on the fresh Health Service cuts in the west - including closing either William Street or Rectory Field residential homes, cutting care packages for nursing and domicillary care patients, closing dozens of hospital beds and reducing non-urgent electoral surgery- have been approved despite repeated pleas to the local Trust’s Board to refuse to do so.
Major public campaigns have previously saved the two Derry homes from closure, with one Health Minister previously promising that residents could spend the rest of their lives there.
At an extraordinary meeting of the Western Health and Social Care Trust Board at its Altnagelvin Hospital site yesterday, a succession of political and healthcare workers’ representatives, among others, warned that if the Trust moved ahead with the consultation, it would cause fear and uncertainty and was likely to spark a public backlash.
The Trust’s chairman, Niall Birthistle, said however that the Trust had a legally binding obligation to put the proposals before the public, to which Joe McCusker from Unison responded that the Board had an obligation to patients, clients and staff.
Opening the meeting, Mr Birthistle said the Department of Health had asked the Trusts across the North to come up with in-year savings of £70m, with the Western Trust’s share of this being £12.5m.
“We as a Trust are legally bound to break even,” he said. “Even before this directorate came along we were under severe financial pressure. We already had a number of savings contingency plans in place.
“As you know there is an increasing demand on our services. We must now find another £12.5m in savings in order to balance the books.
“The team here worked day and night over the last number of weeks to put together a plan to achieve this. The over-riding priority was not to compromise safety and to make minimal disruption to services.” He clarified that this was not a Trust decision, but a Departmental directive and the final plans could only be approved at Ministerial level.
Mr. McCusker, the first speaker to address the Board, said the message from the Board must be “that you have a duty of care to not make cuts that will damage public health”.
Shaun Harkin from People Before Profit warned that local people will not accept the closure of a residential home.
“I’ve heard that the two residential homes we fought for here in Derry to halt closure are on the chopping block. I think that is going to be unacceptable to people all across Derry and we will mobilise and organise the fight against that,” he said.
Addressing the meeting, SDLP Foyle MLA Mark H. Durkan said the absence of an Executive was impacting on health, adding that, by his calculations, £12.5m was a bigger cut than the other Trusts have been tasked with implementing per head of population.
“I, and the SDLP, are here today to support the Trust,” he said. “We are not here to support you in implementing these cuts. We are offering our support to you in resisting these cuts. There is absolutely no way we can make savings of the magnitude being demanded without compromising safety and patient care.”
Sinn Fein Foyle MP Elisha McCallion said the finger of blame needed to be pointed at the Tories who, she claimed, had cut the block grant by £3bn. over the past seven years.
“We need a sustainable Executive which is properly resourced, which has proper money and which protects the rights of the citizens of our constituencies,” she said.
Referring to the fact that the proposals were not published prior to or during the meeting, she said: “I am very cynical of this meeting here today. For a start we don’t know what yous are suggesting.
“I also think James Brokenshire and others, just as they did with the school uniform grants, are trying to point a gun at the heads of the politicians and how dare they on such important matters. How dare they use health, which we know is already under such pressure.”
She said that a very clear message had been sent to the Board from the numerous speakers to oppose the cuts. Mr. Birthistle, however, said that the Trust was there to point out proposals and not to say ‘no.’ The Trust’s Board later unanimously approved the proposal to begin consulting on its Draft Savings Plan.
Western Trust Chief Executive, Dr Anne Kilgallen, said: “The safety of the patients and clients under our care is our utmost priority and we have borne this in mind in developing our proposals.
“The Trust has sought to protect emergency and unscheduled care, red flag and cancer patients, looked after children (child protection), frail people and people with a disability.
“It is important to note that the Draft Savings Plan is a public consultation and that no decisions have been made regarding the implementation of the proposals contained within the plan.”