Northern Ireland

Health service cuts 'less severe' than feared

Health Minister Michael McGimpsey has told an assembly committee cuts to the health budget will not be as severe as first feared.

The Department of Health has to save £113m as part of cuts imposed by the Executive earlier this year.

Although Mr McGimpsey is planning 2% savings on staffing costs there will be no compulsory redundancies.

However, patients will have to wait longer for surgical procedures such as hip and knee replacements.

Some people may have to wait as much as 36 weeks for these procedures.

Mr McGimpsey said he aims to ensure that all patients can see a specialist in outpatients and that diagnostic tests are carried out as quickly as possible.

New services will be phased in over a matter of time which will save the department more than £50m and there will be less use of the private sector, including locums and agency nursing staff.

Tuesday's meeting of the assembly health commitee got off to a false start after the Department of Health failed to print the right documents detailing the minister's spending plans.

After the briefing, Mr McGimpsey said: "I have spoken to unions and told them there will be no compulsory redundancies.

"I need to stand over that because I can't deliver the health service we need for our people with any less staff.

"As far as the future's concerned, it depends very much on the resources - if I'm faced with further cuts the reality is that will eat very much into the frontline services."

He said a number of things that had been planned by his department would be affected by the cuts, including cancer screening and mental health intiatives and waiting lists would lengthen.

"My warning is this, this is as far as I can go on these issues," he said.

"We're not able effectively to catch the bus with the rest of the UK because the money over here is not being properly ring-fenced."

What Mr McGimpsey outlined to the committee was how he would like his budget spent over the next year.

Commissioning boards must now calculate whether the figures work. This should be known in about two weeks' time.

Unions

Meanwhile, a delegation of trade unions representatives (RCN, Unite, Unison and NIPSA) including the British Medical Association, met with the minister on Tuesday.

They discussed the minister's priorities for 2010/11 and the financial difficulties facing health and the fact that the service is not able to meet current targets.

"These financial constraints will have a very serious impact on the ability of the service to meet these targets," the trade unions said in a statement.

The trade unions said the cuts were having "a detrimental impact on patients and staff and the wider community".

"While the 'no compulsory redundancy' commitment from the Minister is a welcome reassurance, the measures proposed are having an intolerable strain and impact on the delivery of healthcare," the statement said.

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