WRDA received a letter from the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust seeking our views as a consultee on the proposals in their 2017/2018 Financial Planning Savings Plan.
As you will no doubt have seen in the news, all of the health trusts have been told by the Department of Health that they must make £70 million of cuts to their in year spending – that leaves them with the huge task of finding ways to save £70 million in the next 6 months.
In the absence of political leadership the situation that has been created by the department’s demand is nothing short of dangerous and chaotic. In an attempt to try to bring some sense of public accountability to the process, the trusts have initiated a public consultation and held a series of public meetings seeking views on how best to make the savings. A number of trade unions, professional medical bodies, political representatives and campaign groups have quite rightly used their place at these meetings to urge the health trusts to go back to the department and refuse to cut vital services any further.
In April of this year when the Department of Education delivered a budget that would require schools to make extensive cuts including the loss of teaching staff, a group of over 40 headteachers in the Belfast area refused to implement the department’s budget. They wrote a public letter outlining their opposition to the budget which they described as ‘untenable’ and ‘seriously damaging their pupils’ education’. These principals had the courage to risk their own reputations as they were effectively declaring that they would have to plan for ‘deficit budget positions’ in order to meet their children’s needs. They told the department they would be spending what was required and put the ball back into their court to come up with a ‘meaningful and sensible budget.’
What is needed at this crisis point in the health service is not a conversation about which services should be cut first. The delivery of health and social care is already at breaking point due to chronic underfunding. To make further cuts as the winter months approach is alarming and unacceptable. What we need is for leaders in health and social care to demonstrate the same courage as those headteachers. But even more than that, we need our political leaders to wake up to the fact that their inability to negotiate a fair and stable government is putting people’s lives at risk.
As Claire Hanna, SDLP MLA pointed out in her evidence to a public meeting held by the Belfast Trust this week, there is more than enough money for health and social care if the department was able to access it. She highlighted the agreement by the Executive back in May of last year to spend an extra £200 million on health each year, the £40 million already agreed to address the transformation issues raised in the Bengoa report and of course the £200 million promised in the DUP/Conservative deal at Westminster. It is simply inexcusable that vulnerable people will suffer and potentially die while money for health and social care is not being released. Our political representatives should not have to be giving their views at public meetings – we need a functioning assembly and executive and every day that passes without progress towards this should be to the shame of our political parties.
WRDA will be responding to the Belfast Trust’s consultation and our demand will be that these in year cuts should not be implemented at all. If our members would like to provide input into our response we’d be keen to hear your own feelings on why the health service cannot take any more cuts. Please email the Women’s Sector Lobbyist email@example.com with a few sentences that we can include. All quotes will be anonymous.