The CSP’s senior negotiating officer Claire Ronald took a leading role in speaking out against proposals to axe £70m from Northern Ireland’s health services during a recent interview for BBC Radio Ulster.
On 24 August, the Department of Health (DH) tasked all five health trusts with developing plans to make their share of savings to the 2017/18 budget. A six-week public consultation is now underway in each trust.
The CSP is asking its members how cuts might impact on physiotherapy services, and its Northern Ireland Board will debate it on 18 September.
Consultation 'a sham'
In the radio interview, Ms Ronald, speaking as vice chair of the health committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions – Northern Ireland Committee (NIC-ICTU), called the consultation process ‘a sham’ because unions had been given ‘very little detail’ on which to consult on.
At a briefing to colleagues on the same day, Ms Ronald said the trade unions had been put in a difficult position by the DH because they believe they have been actively sidelined in the lead up to the consultation.
She told BBC Radio Ulster listeners: ‘They (the health and social care trusts) were saying in meetings that they would only take suggestions that will release the same amount of savings. If we don’t have access to information on costs then it is very difficult to make those suggestions,’ she said.
When questioned on why health unions were participating in a ‘sham’ consultation, Ms Ronald deftly responded that it was nevertheless important that members’ voices are heard. ‘The health sector is being used as a political football but it doesn’t mean that we won’t participate,’ she asserted.
Money being held back
She pointed out that trusts were being asked to make savings, while additional NHS money was being held back because of Northern Ireland’s ongoing political crisis.
As part of its ‘supply and confidence’ deal to prop up Theresa May’s government, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) was promised an extra £300m for the health budget, with £50m of this targeted for ‘immediate pressures’.
But the package has been held up by the ongoing stalemate over restoring the Stormont Executive, which has been without a government since the power sharing agreement between the DUP and Sinn Fein collapsed in January.
Speaking to trade union colleagues, Ms Ronald added: ‘The funding crisis which has caused such turmoil across NI’s five health trusts will not be resolved until our NHS has a locally accountable health minister and a functioning NI Assembly to scrutinise their decisions.’
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