‘Unions will take to the streets’ – to defend N Ireland NHS

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MASSIVE health service cuts being proposed for Northern Ireland ‘will put patients’ lives at risk’, Dr Tom Black said yesterday.

Dr Black who is chair of the GPs committee in the British Medical Association (BMA), said he had ‘never seen anything as threatening to health care and patients’ lives’.

He was referring to the paper published by Northern Ireland Health Secretary Edwin Poots.

Black added: ‘We see here cuts totalling £140m in a system which is already under huge pressure.

‘Hospitals and general practice are under pressure from work and from lack of resources already. I don’t think we can stand or sustain a cut of £140m. Patient care will come to harm.

‘We’ll see long waits at A&E, long waits in general practice, long waits in GP out-of-hours. Outpatient appointment times will get longer, patients will wait longer for operations and in some cases, probably not get them.’

He said the biggest change would be £16.5m cuts for locum doctors and bank nurses, NHS employees who can provide shift cover at short notice.

‘That’s the glue that holds the system together, that’s how you keep things moving . . . If we don’t have that £16.5m for them, you will see things grinding to a halt,’ he said.

Garrett Martin from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said the cuts would have ‘detrimental and severe consequences on the health and well-being of people in Northern Ireland’.

He added: ‘Decisions need to be made and we need to move forward here with a health service we can be proud of.’

A Unison spokeswoman said: ‘As far back as 12 months ago we warned the health budget was running into serious crisis, and called on the Executive in Northern Ireland to address this issue.

‘We now find that the reality of the deficit is being used as a political football in the debate between the two parties in government over implementation of welfare reforms.

‘The lives and health needs of the population cannot be bartered in this way. We note that the Minister is now insisting that this become a major issue for the whole Executive. We agree with that and we will also insist that any new budgets drawn up must include provision for a decent pay rise for NHS workers.

‘The NHS is crucial to every person living in Northern Ireland. It must be protected and defended and properly resourced.

‘We are awaiting the outcome of the Northern Ireland Executive discussion and should they fail to meet the challenge, then NHS workers across all unions will no doubt take to the streets to defend our public health service.’

In a letter to the chair of the Northern Ireland Executive’s Health Committee, Poots lists possible savings of nearly £15m under staff pay cuts, but warns this could lead to industrial action by health care unions.

The letter states that standards and targets, such as waiting times, would not be met if the cuts are implemented.

Also that millions would be taken away from care packages for the elderly and there would be less money for drug therapies for conditions such as cancer, arthritis and multiple sclerosis (MS).

A large number of hospital wards are to close.