MORE THAN 700 nursing posts are under threat in Northern Ireland as part of wider plans to cut almost 2,500 health service jobs over the next three years.
This is to ape what is happening in Britain, where plans are afoot to close down scores of District General Hospitals and replace them with polyclinics and with care in the community.
The polyclinics are to be either privately managed or owned, and are to replace the established and highly regarded GPs surgeries, while the care in the community is what is termed as ‘patchy’ ie non-existent. These moves threaten the jobs of thousands of doctors and nurses.
As in Britain, the changes posed in the north are not a case of replacing an inferior form of health care with a better one.
It is simply a question of cost cutting and sacrificing health care, in order to cut the health budget to satisfy the requirements of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
The north’s Unionist Health Minister Michael McGimpsey has made this point crystal clear.
He wants to make savings of £344m in line with the Stormont power sharing government’s efficiency plans.
McGimpsey said staff cuts were inevitable if services were to be saved.
‘We have to get more efficient because if we don’t do that we will eventually run out of money.’
Nine hundred administrative posts and 450 social services positions are also under threat.
The proposals were discussed by the Stormont health committee on Thursday. Each health trust will carry out consultations before a final decision is made early next year.
‘I am charged with finding this, I have no choice,’ said McGimpsey.
‘This is a decision that has been made by the executive, it applies to all departments and it applies equally to the Department of Health.
‘That’s not easy. There are tough choices here.’
McGimpsey continued that in many cases people could be cared for in their homes or communities, rather than hospitals.
All that is happening in the North of Ireland is, that as part of the peace dividend, all of the privatisation and cuts measures that were implemented in Britain but were held off in the north to avoid increasing the support for the IRA, are now being unleashed with a vengeance.
It is ironic that the moves to close cottage and other hospitals, and sack NHS ancillary workers and nurses, and privatise other state owned sections of the economy are being carried out by a power sharing government in which one half is made up of Sinn Fein, which is widely considered to be a socialist as well as a nationalist party.
With the deepening of the crisis of capitalism, the cuts and closures that have been seen in Britain are going to be unleashed in the north with a rush.
It is welcome that the UNISON trade union in the north has taken up a fighting posture, despite the fact that in Britain it has not called one real strike action against NHS cuts and closures.
Catherine Harte from Unison has said that ‘Any attempt to move ahead with the cuts to front-line jobs and services will be met with strong resistance from UNISON, including industrial action.’
The non-TUC trade union the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has also said that it is ‘deeply concerned that patient care will suffer’.
The RCN Northern Ireland Director Mary Hinds said the efficiency targets were ‘intended to release funding for re-investment in front-line services but you cannot get any more front-line than nurses’.
‘Should this plan be implemented, we are very worried, not only about the nurses who may lose their jobs, but also for those left behind who will inevitably be under even greater pressure,’ she said.
Once again the power sharing regime in the north is embarking on the same course of action as the brown government in Britain.
The plan is to cut and close down front-line hospital care which depends on nurses.
It must be resisted with all out strike action.