Minister approves health proposals to save millions

The Health Minister has given the green light to a range of plans aimed at saving millions of pounds and improving healthcare provision across Northern Ireland.

Michael McGimpsey has approved proposals made by the Southern, Western, South Eastern and Belfast Trusts under the controversial Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) scheme.

However, he has yet to come back with his decision on the future of services provided by the Northern Trust, including contentious proposals to remove acute services at the Mid-Ulster Hospital in Magherafelt together with the hospital’s A&E department.

He is expected to make an announcement on these matters in the coming weeks, along with his decision on the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service and Northern Ireland Fire Service.

Earlier this week, it emerged that the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service plans to cut front line cover by almost 70,000 hours as part of efficiency savings required under CSR.

Rural areas, particularly west of the Bann, are likely to be worst affected by the cuts and health unions have reacted angrily, claiming places such as Londonderry need more ambulances.

The proposals put forward by all trusts have been met with criticism throughout the process by communities concerned that health provision will be seriously damaged as a consequence.

However, making the announcement, Mr McGimpsey said: “My department has to achieve an efficiency target of 3%, which equates to some £344 million per annum by 2010/11 and £700m over three years.

“I have repeatedly said that is not an easy task and that this is all happening too fast. It means that a huge sum of money has to be found within the already limited funds available to health and social care services. However, these funds must be released if we are to ensure that vital life-saving and life-changing services are implemented over the next few years.

“Following careful scrutiny, I have approved these efficiency savings on the condition that the trusts will ensure that the quality of services for their patients and clients is maintained or improved.”

An important factor under CSR is plans in some areas to scale back residential care for the elderly and encourage more independent living.

Greenfield in the Western Trust and Ravara in the South Eastern Trust will remain open. Skeagh House and Slieve Roe homes in the Southern Trust will also continue to provide care in line with the existing number of permanent residents.

Loch Cuan home in the South Eastern Trust will be developed in consultation with residents, families and local communities. No changes will take place until the new facilities are in place. Each new facility will require an investment of around £2.5m.

In the Western Trust, existing residents in Foyleville, Gortmore and Drumhaw will continue to be cared for but the homes will no longer admit new permanent residents. Homes will continue to provide respite care and step-down beds for those people who need it.

The South Eastern Trust will work with residents and families to provide a range of accommodation choices for people currently living in Grove House.