A local MLA has hit out at what he describes as the ultimately pointless exercise from the Health Department, to demand undeliverable and dangerous savings, only for many to now be abandoned.
East Antrim MLA Roy Beggs said: “It was outrageous that the Department of Health waited until half way through the year before demanding that the Health Trusts scramble to find £70m worth of emergency savings. It was inevitable that many of the proposals which did come back were irrational, contradictory and ultimately posed a serious risk to patient safety.
“Proposals such as withholding essential drugs, shutting wards and putting a freeze on care packages for the elderly would have greatly intensified the crisis already engulfing the local health service. Several of the Health Trusts acknowledged that waiting times would have spiralled even further out of control and that patients would have ultimately came to harm.
“The proposal to shut the two rehabilitation wards at Whiteabbey Hospital was particularly absurd given the implications it would immediately have had on neighbouring hospitals which are already operating at well above capacity.
“Whilst I welcome the announcement that many of the proposals will no longer proceed following the allocation of an additional £40m, the truth is that it should never have come to this.”
The Ulster Unionist Health Spokesperson added: “It was known for some time that additional money would be allocated from in-year monitoring and that in reality many of these short-term savings might ultimately not be required. However, the Department never acknowledged this.
“The initial announcements of the cuts, and subsequent consultation exercise, understandably raised serious concerns for both patients and staff. Many of these fears could have been avoided had the Departments of Health and Finance operated with more frankness and transparency from the outset.
“Health is too important to be caught up in futile exercises such as this. It needs stability and longer-term planning to enable it to make best use of the funds that are available. Our Health Trusts urgently need certainty for next year’s budget and therefore there is an onus on the DUP and Sinn Fein to recognise that unless the current impasse is resolved, patients and staff can expect to go through this process all over again next year.”