Staffing £66m radiotherapy unit may prove difficult

Elaine Way, chief executive, Western Health and Social Care Trust. (2803C56)
Elaine Way, chief executive, Western Health and Social Care Trust. (2803C56)

The construction of Londonderry’s new £66m Radiotherapy Centre is not under threat by the current funding crisis, but early recruiting of staff to run it may be, the Chief Executive of the Western Trust has confirmed.

Elaine Way has now also confirmed that the introduction of a radically improved heart care service - Percutaneous Coronary Intervention (pPCI)- at Altnagelvin Hospital is one of the services currently in limbo until there is more certainty over the budget.

The pPCI service is aimed at reducing death rates from heart attacks.

It was due to open in Londonderry in the middle of this month, but its future will now be decided after the Executive confirm on September 11 what is to be done about the £140m deficit to the health budget.

Elaine Way was speaking on Tuesday before the September meeting of Derry City Council’s Regional Services Committee as part of a delegation of directors from the Western Health and Social Care Trust.

It came after Health Minister Edwin Poots recently said that numerous planned health services may be threatened or delayed due to the black hole in funding the health service in the north.

Mr Poots had applied for £160m from the Executive in the June Monitoring Round but was only allocated £20m.

Trust bosses said a range of massive infrastructure projects in the west were protected however.

These include, at Altnagelvin Hospital, the new Radiotherapy Unit and a new North Wing, to be opened in 2017 and which will replace hospital wards in the Tower Block.

The Trust’s Director of Finance Lesley Mitchell said that the Western Trust had broken even every year for the past eight years except for a £2.2m overspend last year, accounting for 0.5 per cent of its total budget, which was in excess of £550m.

“However we do find ourselves in a slightly different position this year,” she warned. “All of you must be aware that all of the Trusts in Northern Ireland are struggling financially this year.”

She said that there were increasing demands on services- particularly family and children’s services, domiciliary care, and the high costs of having to bring in locum and agency medical staff to fill gaps and vacancies.

She added that the Health Minister would be meeting with the Health Committee on Wednesday this week and the NI Executive on September 11 to discuss the budget deficit, after which it should become clearer what measures would need to be taken.

She said that measures being considered regionally include cutting back on agency staff and delays in new drugs being implemented.

She added that on a more positive note that the difficulties were restricted to revenue funding and that “capital funding is secure” this year, with £60m being spent, £11m of which will go on the radiotherapy centre, which she said was “going up apace”.

Elaine Way said some of the suggestions being aired in relation to possible cutbacks have been “unsettling” for Trust staff, and said that in recent meetings with the Department for Health it was made clear the Minister did not want these to happen.

Derry City Council have agreed to back a motion put forward by DUP Councillor Maurice Devenney supporting the Health Service in its search for the “£140m it needs and that it did not get.”