The £70m emergency cuts announced by the Health and Social Care Trusts will mean people waiting longer for treatments and people having to remain in hospitals for longer than they need to and therefore not allowing those beds to become available for other patients.
Northern Ireland already has by far the worst waiting times anywhere in the UK, so these additional cuts will have a direct impact on the quality and safety of patient care. More lives will be lost, as local health officials themselves warn – spiralling waiting times can lead to severely delayed diagnoses of life threatening illnesses.
The shocking reality of 2017 is that for some of those people waiting, such as the 64,000 local outpatients waiting longer than a year for their first appointment with a consultant, some now have a reduced likelihood of a successful outcome as a result of the delays.
The health trusts have been told they have to find these savings.
Whilst some decisions such as using other cheaper medications are welcome, others such as slashing intermediary beds and restricting domiciliary care packages run completely contrary to what all the evidence suggests we should be doing. This short-termism may well save some money this year but will end up costing us far more in the longer-term. The vision of Transforming Your Care appears to be dead.
These proposals are not based on what was best for patients, rather they were decided on which saved the most amount of money in the quickest time. That is no way to run the NHS.
These cuts will be made between October to next March. Yet it doesn’t need to be this way. A local health minister could block the worst of the proposals, yet Sinn Fein representatives had the audacity to attend the public meetings and speak out against the cuts, obviously overlooking the fact that Michelle O’Neill abandoned her responsibilities when she walked away from being health minister earlier this year.
Instead of these last minute cuts to this year’s health budget we should have a health minister and executive in place leading the transformation needed to improve healthcare, and planning the 2018/19 budget so efficient proposals can be implemented.
Patients need help. They are losing faith that they’ll ever see the additional money promised by both the DUP and Sinn Fein. Never before has our health service faced such a crisis, and yet right now in the absence of a minister it is totally leaderless.
Roy Beggs, UUP health spokesperson, East Antrim MLA