Political blame game as proposals on health cuts revealed

A political blame game erupted after a ‘public’ meeting on health cuts in Craigavon as questions arose over the ‘mysterious’ £1billion funds promised to Stormont.

As the Southern Health Trust outlined proposals to slash more than £6m from the budget over the next year, some politicians queried the whereabouts of the funds promised by the DUP and Prime Minister Theresa May.

SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly said: “There is a political failure here - a wider political failure in terms of Sinn Fein and the DUP not getting their act together and my colleague made a very valid point and warned the Secretary of State that he should not be using cuts in the health and education services and elsewhere across the public sector as a stick to beat up the political process.”

She said she found the meeting ‘very frustrating’.

“There is very little meat on the bones of the document that was given to us minutes before the meeting started.

“The fact was none of the questions really were answered. At the end of the day, public representatives are asking these questions on behalf of the public

She said that while she has a good relationship with the Trust she finds it difficult to get down to the nitty gritty of how the cuts will impact directly on service users.

“Other Trusts are much more forthright with their public representatives than this particular Trust and that’s why there is the old adage that the crying baby gets fed first - and that’s why we have seen investment in Antrim Area Hospital and A&E up in Belfast but here in Craigavon some of the facts are glossed over.

“I am very unhappy with the level of detail contained in the document and I along with my SDLP colleagues will be meeting the Trust next week to interrogate what the proposals are in terms of the cuts,” she said.

Sinn Fein MLA John O’Dowd said the Trust had not given people enough time to study the document.

“There is no doubt our health service needs more funding but I do question why the Department of Health have brought forward these cuts at this time.

“I believe we are dealing with smoke and mirrors from the Department of Health and there is another agenda.

“But I can assure the public we will be going through this document in detail. We will continue to oppose the British governments imposed cuts on our health service.

“People should be under no illusion, even if the Executive was returned tomorrow, there are still significant financial pressures being placed on our public services as a direct result of the Tory policy in Northern Ireland.”

Asked about the £1 billion funding promised and the lack of movement at Stormont, Mr O’Dowd said: “Our health service was underfunded when Stormont was active. It is worth noting that there is a fully functioning goverment in London and the health service in England is also underfunded.

“It is Tory Party policy to underfund our public services.

“I welcome any funding whether it is a billion pound from the grubby little deal between the DUP and the Tory Party but it shows when the Tory Party wants to spend money, there is money available,” he said.

Meanwhile at the meeting there were demands for an open public meeting on proposed health cuts have been made by politicians and the general public after a feisty meeting in Craigavon today.

Strict protocol at the Southern Health and Social Care Trust Board meant many members of the general public and politicians were unable to voice concerns about the proposed cuts.

At a packed ‘extraordinary’ meeting at Trust headquarters, Interim Chief Executive Francis Rice and his team outlined the proposal for the £6.4m of cuts the local trust has been asked to make by the Department of Health.

Several proposals include deferring posts which have become vacant during 2017/18 within the Trusts business support functions such as technology, human resources and finance - which is expected to save £1.2m.

The Trust also aims to make efficiencies on services such as furniture, printing etc.

However many of the political representatives accused the Trust of having little detail in a document which was only made available to scrutinise a short time before the meeting.

Mickey Brady, Sinn Fein MP, referred to substantial funding being promised to the health service and when this funding would be forthcoming. “It begs the question, who has requested these cuts.”

The SDLP’s Sinead Bradley said: “There was a promise of £1 billion for the health service. Where is this money? That promise was made by the two main political parties, the DUP and Sinn Fein.”

“Where is the money the DUP was promised from Theresa May?”

Referring to the Trust’s assertion that part of the savings may be found in ‘natural slippage’ SDLP MLA Justin McNulty described it as ‘false savings’

Brian Smith of NIPSA said that while they always had good open relations with the Trust: “Today we despair.”

He queried the Trust calling a meeting in the middle of summer and at such short notice to examine the document.

Despite not having speaking rights SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly called on board to suspend Standing Orders today or organise a public meeting whereby citizens could air their views.

One member of the public also rose to complain about the situation.

She said she was on a steep learning curve since arriving at the meeting at noon and didn’t have time to read the document.

She was also perplexed at not being able to air her views at a ‘public’ meeting.

She asked directly if the Trust was planning a public meeting so the general public could air their views but was not given a direct answer.