Ulster Health Trusts Slim From Eighteen To Five

The first step in a massive shake-up of how Ulster’s health service is run has been taken after the province’s 18 health trusts officially merged into five this weekend.

From now on, the new bodies will be known as the Western, Northern, Southern, South Eastern and Belfast trusts in a bid to slim-line health and social care services under the Review of Public Administration (RPA).

Despite the new management structures, it will be business as usual for staff and people using health and social care services across Northern Ireland for the time being.

The change over is the first of any Government department under RPA, which is the biggest overhaul of public services in three decades. It is estimated that the process will take four years and will save £235m per year to be redirected back into frontline services such as health and education.

Department of Health Permanent Secretary, Andrew McCormick, explained to the Belfast Telegraph what the practical implications will be for staff today, and in the coming months and years.

He said the vast majority would have gone into work this morning to the same job in the same place. “You can’t just flick a switch and this will take time. It’s an enormous task,” he said.

Although chief executives and chairs of the trusts have already been appointed, it is expected to be some time before clear management structures emerge.

Mr McCormick said it is estimated that around 1,700 jobs will have to go from the health service under the wide-ranging reforms. These will hit clerical, managerial and executive posts and will save the service £50m per year.

The permanent secretary said that of the former 18 trust chief executives, five have been appointed chief of a new trust and five moved into directors’ roles, while two of the posts were already vacant. There are also expected to be a number of voluntary retirements.

All five of the trusts are now running from temporary headquarters and it’s expected that a decision on where they will be located permanently will be left to politicians when they return to Stormont next month.

It will also be left to MLAs to consider what should happen to headquarters not needed and Mr McCormick said some property may be sold off.

“The organisations are in good shape. This is a very exciting time but there is a lot of uncertainty. It will be difficult but we have got a very strong commitment to work with the unions and staff and handle it sensitively,” he said.

William McKee, chief executive of the new Belfast trust, said he hopes the reorganisation is “an opportunity to do things differently, to organise services around people, not buildings, and to rethink how, and why, we use our health and social care services”.

The former Royal Group of Hospitals chief is hoping the move will act as a catalyst for a “healthier Belfast”.

Jim Stewart, chairman of the new Northern trust, sees the move as a chance ” to make life better for communities”.