Beggs responds to NHSCT cuts consultation – says “Lives will be put at risk” & in year reductions “should not be implemented”

East Antrim Ulster Unionist Party Assemblyman Roy Beggs MLA has responded to the public consultation by the NHSCT on the proposed £13.2m cut to services via their financial savings plan for 2017/2018. The Ulster Unionist representative had previously attended the public consultation meeting in Mossley Mill along with Cllr Andrew Wilson, where the MLA addressed the meeting outlining his concerns relating to the in year cuts and the potential consequences to health care locally.

Responding to the consultation, Roy Beggs, UUP Health Spokesperson submitted the following response before last weeks (5/10/17) response cut off:

“Firstly I wish to register my disappointment that the public meeting in the Whiteabbey area, where the most significant cuts were being proposed with the 2 rehabilitation wards being closed, took place during an afternoon and not during the evening when it would have been more accessible for the many members of the public who would have been working. I believe that given the significant loss of service in the Whiteabbey area that an evening meeting should have been arranged to enable greater feedback.

The proposed cuts come at a time where there are additional winter pressures as a result of the winter cold and indeed annual flu pressures. At this time there are normally additional resources provided to meet additional health pressures, rather than cuts being made. I understand that a significant flu has already struck Australia and that this winter, significant pressures can be expected locally. I am concerned that if these cuts are implemented, lives will be put at risk.

The bulk of the proposed £13.2m in year cuts which will affect frontline services, are to be made in the final 5 months of the financial year which will undoubtedly have a negative consequence for health care in the area. If implemented they will adversely affect primary, secondary and acute health care. I believe that the cuts will have huge knock on effects on the inter-related parts of the health service.

Reducing elected surgery by 2400 procedures will add to pressures on our already struggling GP’s who will have to support more patients in the community who are already experiencing delays in treatment. The reduction of elected surgery which will create additional delay in treatment is also likely to result in some patients being admitted through A&E as their condition worsens, adding pressures to the emergency services.

The proposed closure of the 2 rehabilitation wards (44 beds) and rehabilitation treatment at Whiteabbey Hospital will result in more expensive acute beds being occupied by patients at Antrim Hospital by patients who would have previously been treated at Whiteabbey. This will result in other patients being unable to be admitted to Antrim Hospital for treatment. The appreciation of the Stroke and the orthopedic/elderly rehabilitation staff and the service was evident at the public consultation meeting. In addition Allied Health staff have highlighted that the lack of space and provision for rehabilitation equipment at Antrim would result in OT’s and Physio’s being limited in what they could do to aid re-enablement. As a result, there would be even longer stays in Hospital and even fewer new patients being able to be treated.

There will be even great pressures on domiciliary care as increased pressures will be on bed managers to return patients home before re-enablement will have occurred. The reduction in the 25 community rehabilitation beds will add to further pressures.

The proposal is to close over 10% of hospital beds in the NHSCT area. However the trust already has the lowest proportion of hospital beds and the highest bed occupancy rates of any NI Trust and as a result this is removing capacity from the hospital system which is already under pressure and without any spare capacity.

To cut such a proportion of funding from the system in the Northern Trust at this stage is neither reasonable nor safe. The proposed cuts will be particularly devastating for the most vulnerable in the community. This includes older people and persons with disabilities who require domiciliary care services. The proposed reduction in domiciliary care will add to delays in patients being discharged as families will be less likely to accept the reduced packages of care that will be offered. Patients again will remain longer in Hospital.

Concerns have also been expressed to me that MS drugs which are administered by the BHSCT are to be withheld from new patients from the NHSCT. As a result, patients health will deteriorate and they will be less likely to live independently. Acute intervention will be more likely. I would ask that the NHSCT should examine this aspect of this matter which will also adversely affect patients from the NHSCT area.

In conclusion, I am concerned that the cumulative effect of the proposed cuts will have an even greater adverse impact on the treatment of patients in the NHSCT than may have been projected. I believe that further very significant delays will be added to the already unacceptably long waiting lists that are putting patients are risk.

£40m has been recently allocated to the Department of Health from in-year Departmental financial monitoring. In addition there is supposed to be some £50m available for Health and Education resource expenditure during this financial year and a further £200m for health transformation and improvement. A Health Minister must be put in place (Local or if necessary Direct Rule) to ensure that these resources can be utilised and to prevent the adverse effect of many of these cuts on front line services.

For too long, there has not been local investment in long term health reform to improve our services. The East Antrim area is in great need of modern Health and Care facilities to enhance the healthcare provide by GPs and Allied Health professionals. Such improved facilities would enable earlier primary care intervention and prevent so many patients having to present to the secondary hospital system for treatment.

In addition, the cost of Health administration (Department of Health, HSCB and 5 areas Trusts) must be reduced so that more funding reaches frontline services. Budgets must be approved in a timely manner so the Department of Health and in turn Health Trusts, partners in the community and voluntary sector can make optimum use of the health funds available. Disruptive in-year reductions in health budgets are wasteful of our limited health resources, bad for patients and should not be implemented.”

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