PROPOSED cuts of £4.6m to help the Western Trust break even in 2013/14 will have a significant impact on services and if approved will see wards and nursing homes closed, waiting lists lengthened and diagnoses delayed.
The Western Trust says it’s being forced to make savings by the Northern Ireland Executive and is concerned members of NIPSA who work at the health authority may launch industrial action.
NIPSA is threatening action over proposed cuts suggested in a letter sent by Lesley Mitchell, Director of Finance and Contracting at WHSCT, to her counterpart Owen Harkin at the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) in August.
She wrote that “any further contingency measures required from the Trust would have a significant impact on services and as such would require Commissioner/Departmental support before Implementation.”
She added: “The amount of additional contingency measures, which you have requested the Trust to develop (£4.6m) and the approach taken has been to focus on areas where flexible staffing costs (bank and agency) are the only means where expenditure can be curtailed with immediate effect.”
She goes on to identify a range of cuts - some affecting all directorates and others targeting specific directorates including acute services, women’s and children’s services and older people’s services.
The largest cut of £1,125,000 suggests a reduction in unfunded nursing by 25 per cent. By the Trust’s own reckoning this will compromise the quality of care across the areas affected.
It will also result in the closure of up to 24 beds, which equates to a full ward. A further cut of £400k affecting acute services will see a cap in expenditure on laboratory chemicals and hike waiting times for lab tests. The trust believes this will result in delayed diagnoses.
Closing Slievemore House and residential care homes will also save £300k each but needs to be approved by Health Minister Edwin Poots.
NIPSA official Alan Law, reacting to these cuts and others, commented: “One area identified for savings includes the capping of expenditure on lab chemicals, the Trust identifies how this will delay diagnosis and impact on the timely treatment of patients.
“A range of other services across the entire Trust will be crippled if these plans are implemented including reduction of hospital beds, closure of residential homes and the decimation of domiciliary care.
“The Trust proposals also include plans to reduce by 25 per cent all unfunded staff in wards, slashing £1.1million from the budget which in their own words will result in the ‘quality of care being compromised and the closure of an entire ward.’”
A spokesperson for the Western Trust told the Sentinel it spends around £540m delivering health and social care services in the Western area each year but must live within the allocated budget.
“The Trust has been set a very ambitious and challenging savings plan of £42.7m over a three year period from April 2012 to March 2015 by the Northern Ireland Executive,” the spokesperson said.
“All health and social care trusts in Northern Ireland are facing similar financial challenges and are in on-going discussions with the service commissioner, the Health and Social Care Board, regarding potential areas for savings and reinvestment.
“The Trust’s Director of Finance at the September Board meeting pointed out the main reasons why the Trust is currently in this financial position.
“First, the Trust is facing new and emerging pressures such as Domiciliary Care, Medical Locums, Foster Care placements, 16 plus homeless young people and nursing pressures.
“Second, the Trust is now in the second year of the ambitious savings plan set by the NI Executive.”
The Trust says its is concerned NIPSA strike action may further impact on local services.
“The Trust is concerned that NIPSA may ask their members to consider industrial action as this will further impact on the delivery of frontline services. We will continue to work with NIPSA with the view to averting such action,” the spokesperson said.