Health Service To Axe 1,700 Jobs

Around 1,700 jobs are to be cut from Ulster’s health service as part of a massive shake-up of the way it is run – more than double the original estimate.

The Belfast Telegraph has learned that predictions of up to 800 clerical, managerial and executive jobs going as part of the Review of Public Administration (RPA) have now risen significantly to 1,700.

The Department of Health is planning to phase the losses in over a four-year period with the aim of saving £50m per year to be invested directly back into front-line services.

Department of Health Permanent Secretary, Andrew McCormick, told the Telegraph that 500 staff have gone already in the past year through natural wastage and vacancy controls.

And he hopes that the department will be able to make remaining losses through voluntary redundancies and retirement as much as possible. But he could not rule out that some staff will have to face redundancy.

Mr McCormick said the initial estimate for job reductions in the health service under RPA had been in the region of 700 to 800, but confirmed that has now risen significantly.

“In line with the estimates in the Equality Impact Assessment of the Human Resources Frameworks, a reduction of nearly 1,700 executive, managerial and clerical level posts across both professional and administrative functions will be needed, enabling around £50m more to be invested each year in improving our services,” he said.

“This reduction will be phased in over a four-year period, allowing us to bring in the changes in a controlled and strategic way, specifically taking into account the findings of the work ongoing in relation to shared services.

“Vacancy controls have been in place for some time and they will play a major part in reducing the direct impact of these job reductions. In addition, staff in at-risk jobs will be redeployed where at all possible into other suitable areas of work.”

He said he appreciated it was an extremely difficult time for staff, but promised the job losses were being handled as sensitively and responsibly as possible, in consultation with unions. He also stressed that the 1,700 figure is just an estimate at this stage and may come down in the future.

No frontline health service jobs, such as doctors and nurses, will be lost in the shake-up of how the health service is run.

The massive changes are part of the wider RPA which will see the biggest reform of how Northern Ireland is governed in three decades. It is estimated that the overall process will save £235m per year, to be redirected back into frontline services such as health and education. The first tangible step in introducing the reforms will be on Monday when the 18 health trusts merge into five.

Mr McCormick also highlighted the importance of streamlining the health service.

“We can improve our standards, make our services more responsive and deliver new innovative models of care. For too long, we have not paid enough attention to the basic health of our population and have failed to address health inequalities.”

He added that ways of spending the funding can be improved, “not as a means of reducing investment in health and social care – but to ensure that the money is used as much as possible for frontline care”.