Northlands crisis: meeting with officials '˜very soon'
Officials from the Department for Health are to meet with representatives from the Northlands Centre over ongoing funding concerns, Derry & Strabane Council have been told.
Sinn Fein Councillor Elisha McCallion said that the meeting is expected to take place “very soon”.
Colr. McCallion was speaking in answer to calls for clarity from other councillors about whether there was any movement since a Special Council meeting held back in July to discuss the crisis facing Northlands and concerns over the referral pathway process.
Northlands has helped thousands of local people with drug and alcohol addiction and their families over the past 40 years.
However a delegation from the organisation this summer told the Council that the facility could be forced to shut down next Spring due to a looming funding crisis.
Local elected members were told at the full council meeting on Thursday that their request for a Council-led deputation of MLAs and Councillors with Health Minister Michelle O’Neill will not take place until January 11, 2017.
A Council officer said they would speak with Northlands staff for an updated position, when asked if there had been any assurances from the Department that there would be discussions with Northlands in the months prior to the Ministerial meeting.
Colr. McCallion said that this was “a very important matter” which was “still very much at the core of all our thoughts”.
“I have been working very closely with the Department and the Minister herself and it is my understanding officials will be meeting with Northlands very soon,” she said.
Minister O’Neill met with staff at the Derry facility back in June this year during a visit to Derry and has been looking into the issues facing Northlands.
In July, representatives from the addiction treatment centre said they were running out of time to save the facility.
Speaking about their financial position, Northlands Chief Executive Declan Doherty said that key funding from central government was now being phased out.
He said that this was posing a potential “disaster” for the future existence of Northlands and addiction services for people across the north and west.
Northlands opened in Derry in 1975 and has helped thousands of people suffering from addiction problems and their relatives over the past four decades.
At present, the organisation- one of only two such facilities in the north- deals with around 600 people a year facing addiction issues, and 60 of whom will be on Northlands’ in-house residential treatment programme.
Mr Doherty told Councillors at the time they were not asking the Council for money but for any “moral support” they can give.
“It’s a disaster for Northlands this has happened, but it is also a disaster for this part of the world,” he said. “This is a real blow for the people of this area. People who are severely dependent and their families who are in need of help will not be able to get it after being promised it will be provided.”
As part of the new Northern Ireland Framework for Alcohol and Drugs, Northlands had been asked by the Department of Health to continue to provide residential treatment services for the Western side of the north, taking in the entire Western Trust area and a large part of the Northern Trust. However staff are now faced with a situation whereby, as a result of its Departmental core funding grant of £168,000 annually being phased out, they may well be forced to shut down in less than a year’s time.
Mr Doherty said Northlands was raising around £30,000 to £50,000 a year through fundraising and donations itself, with other funding from the Northern and Western Trusts, but with their central funding being removed, this was not enough to save the service.
He also said that an agreement had been worked out with the Health and Social Care Board that they would offset the impact of the Departmental funding cuts, but that they were told at a meeting earlier this year that the HSCB now had no money to do so.