Staffing levels within Northern Ireland’s crisis-hit health service are expected to be cut in a desperate bid to save £70 million by March.
Hospital beds may also have to be reduced to help ensure the Province’s five health trusts break even during this financial year.
The trusts are due to release full details of their draft cost saving plans this afternoon.
They have been told by the Department of Health that savings of £70 million must be made before the end of the 2017/18 financial year.
It is understood that among the main proposals to save money is a reduction in temporary staff and hospital beds.
The Department of Health has warned that the impact of some of the trusts’ proposals if implemented “is likely to have a considerable adverse effect on the delivery of services”.
The health service has an annual budget of more than £5 billion, however the sector remains under enormous strain.
With vital reform of the health service now stalled due to the lack of a power-sharing government at Stormont, there are concerns the pressures will continue to increase.
The Department of Health said there are “significant challenges” to the health service due to inflation, an increasing and ageing population and the cost of new treatments.
A spokeswoman said that Health and Social Care “cannot spend money it does not have”.
“Savings must be applied to this year’s budget in order to achieve financial balance in 2017/18. In this financial year, trusts are required to generate plans to deliver savings of £70 million in order to address the funding gap,” the department added.
After the health trusts publish their savings proposals, there will be a six-week public consultation period.
During that period, the Health and Social Care Board will work with the trusts to develop ways to “mitigate as far as possible the proposed temporary service changes” and “maintain quality of provision”, the Department of Health said.
The department said that maintaining patient safety remains the prime priority but warned that “given the scale of the proposals, it will not be possible to have any significant mitigation plan and the impact of some these proposals if implemented is likely to have a considerable adverse effect on the delivery of services”.
“The position will continue to be closely monitored, including the need for additional savings measures to support a break-even financial position,” the department added.