Northern Ireland

Health service cuts could be 'catastrophic' says NI GP

Dr Tom Black
Image caption Dr Tom Black said patients' lives would be 'put at risk' if the budget cuts were enforced

Potential cuts to the health service outlined in a paper seen by the BBC could be "catastrophic" to patient care, a Northern Ireland GP has said.

Dr Tom Black said he had "never seen anything as threatening" to health care and patients' lives could be at risk.

The paper shows that cuts could restrain pay for health sector staff, lower the number of agency staff and reduce spending on home care packages.

Health Minister Edwin Poots said his department faces a £140m shortfall.

In a letter to the chair of the health committee, the minister said the paper highlighted to the executive the significant detrimental impacts of the cuts to the health service.

He added that he wants the public to be fully informed of the seriousness of the position.

'Under pressure'

Speaking on BBC's Good Morning Ulster programme on Friday, Dr Black, who is chair of the GP committee in the British Medical Association (BMA), said he believed patients' lives would be at risk if the cuts were enforced.

"I think patients' lives will be put at risk by this. I have no doubt," he said.

"We see here cuts totalling £140m in a system which is already under huge pressure.

"Hospitals and general practice are under pressure from work and from lack of resources already. I don't think we can stand or sustain a cut of £140m. Patient care will come to harm.

"We'll see long waits at A&E, long waits in general practice, long waits in GP out-of-hours.

"Outpatient appointment times will get longer, patients will wait longer for operations and in some cases, probably not get them."

He said the biggest change would be £16.5m cuts for locum doctors and bank nurses, NHS employees who can provide shift cover at short notice.

"That's the glue that holds the system together, that's how you keep things moving... If we don't have that £16.5m for them, you will see things grinding to a halt," he said.

BBC Northern Ireland health correspondent Marie-Louise Connolly described the paper as the minister's "last ditch attempt to keep the health service as we currently know it in Northern Ireland".

She said it was her analysis that if the proposals go through, the Transforming Your Care programme - the future road map for health and social care - would be "dead in the water".

'Across the board'

Garrett Martin from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said the cuts would have "detrimental and severe consequences on the health and well-being of people in Northern Ireland".

He said: "This paper doesn't actually go into significant detail in terms of the real impact it would have.

"We're talking about wards not being adequately staffed. We already have problems with that and this would be compounded.

"We would have district nursing teams depleted and not able to carry out their duties to the degree that they need to, and should be. Domiciliary care would also be drastically cut."

He added that the cuts would affect health care "across the board" and that decisions needed to be made immediately.

"These (cuts) would have a real impact on people's lives," he said.

"If you look at these proposals they go across a spectrum of health care from older people's services, people who have cancer, people with mental health problems, and even across children and young people's services.

"Decisions need to be made and we need to move forward here with a health service we can be proud of."

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