Ward closures proposed at local hospital

Whiteabbey Hospital. Pic by Google.
Whiteabbey Hospital. Pic by Google.

Concerns have been raised about the future of services at a local hospital in the wake of proposed cuts being announced by the Northern Health and Social Care Trust.

The Northern Trust proposes to temporarily close two wards and a day ward at Whiteabbey Hospital. The Times understands this will have an impact on over 40 beds and over 100 staff.

Speaking today, Northern Trust Chief Executive, Tony Stevens said: “We are part of a system that is under significant financial pressure but the HSC system is working collaboratively to find solutions.

“We will prioritise services to protect the sickest and most vulnerable. The proposals that we have put forward today seek to minimise any adverse impact on our ongoing plans for reform and modernisation.

“The proposals, if implemented, will however have an immediate and direct impact on current service provision. There will be no direct impact on current staff, but the Trust will maintain its current vacancy management processes.

“We will continue to seek to find ways to mitigate this impact and I would encourage everyone, public service users and staff to engage in this important consultation.”

North Belfast DUP MP, Nigel Dodds said: “Proposals brought forward today by the Northern Trust will cause deep concern. Whiteabbey Hospital provides vital health services to people across North Belfast and Newtownabbey.

“These proposals are a direct result of the intransigence of Sinn Fein and their refusal to restore the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive. These proposed cuts imposed by Sinn Fein will have serious consequences for people waiting for medical procedures and for our hospital staff who do such tremendous work.”

Mr Dodds added: “I have requested an urgent meeting with the Chief Executive of the Northern Trust on behalf of patients and staff to reiterate our concerns about these proposals.

“I would encourage service users and the wider public to make their voice heard and I call on Sinn Fein to recognise the reality of the hardship that their indulgent refusal is causing and the need to end their shameful dereliction of duty.”

Ulster Unionist Health Spokesperson, Roy Beggs MLA said: “These emergency cuts 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 United Kingdom, 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 where we are in 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 East Antrim MLA added: “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.”

Commenting on the proposals, Mayor of Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council, Cllr Paul Hamill said: I’m very disappointed to hear this news and my concern is for the workers and patients. I am deeply upset that more services are being taken away from this community.”

Glengormley DEA Alliance representative, Cllr John Blair said: “Northern Trust has told the public that they will contribute to the requested £70 million NI health service cuts by saving £13 million.

“The Northern Trust has said of the cuts, ‘these could have a major impact on services.’ This country has an elected Assembly but no government at a time like this?

“Perhaps it’s time for some to stop talking about the strength of their mandate, their red lines etc and start running the country!”

East Antrim UUP MLA, John Stewart said: “This is hugely concerning and only goes to highlight again the massive impact that a lack of Executive / Government is having here in Northern Ireland.

“In Co Antrim, the Northern Trust is reporting that it would usually have an extra £2 million coming in as it approaches the busy Winter period. Instead they are being asked to save £13 million.

“As a result, a broad plan of cuts has been proposed including the temporary closure of rehabilitation services at Whiteabbey Hospital that will impact 44 beds and 110 staff.”

Mr Stewart added: “Following today’s announcements, I have already requested meetings with the Northern Trust and civil servants to discuss these proposals. Rest assured both I and the Ulster Unionist Party will be lobbying hard to fight these cuts in services across Northern Ireland.”

North Belfast SDLP MLA, Nichola Mallon said: “We have had copious exercises and consultations and we have had report, after report, after report. What’s happening here is we are transforming our care, but we’re not doing it to care for patients- we’re doing it to balance books. People are going to be left in pain, they’re going to be put at increased risk and they are going to die.

“We were told previously that health budgets were protected. We were told there was money for health from the DUP/Tory deal. Where is that and how can that be spent?”

Commenting on the proposed cuts, Kevin McCabe, Assistant Secretary, NIPSA said: “This morning we have heard Trust Chief Executives briefing staff advising that they must save over £70 million in total of the HSC budget.

“Each Trust has identified their share of the savings whilst ensuring; safe good quality care, value for money, health and wellbeing but with a statutory obligation to balance the books.

“NIPSA will fight with the public and others to resist these proposed cuts over the consultation period. It has already urged MLAs and other elected representatives to register to attend the lunchtime meetings and to reflect and express the entire community’s opposition to further budget cuts.”