Northern Ireland

Were threatened NI health cuts a ploy?

Public consultation in Enniskillen
Image caption Public meetings like this one in Enniskillen were held across Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland's health and social care services have been allocated £40m of additional funding.

The Department of Health says the funding will reduce the need to make £70m worth of savings by the end of the financial year.

It included proposals to cut hospital beds and agency staff, and to postpone elective surgery.

Arduous road

While it is all good news, a long and arduous road was travelled to get to this point, and some would argue unnecessarily.

The BBC reported several weeks ago that it was highly likely the October monitoring round would bear fruit.

Monitoring rounds allow unspent funds to be reallocated between government departments.

And the predicted additional funding was made available.

In the meantime, emergency consultation meetings continued where the public were asked to do what politicians could never deliver - to decide where the axe should fall.

Image caption The proposed savings included cuts to agency staff

Health unions, families and staff across Northern Ireland debated whether cuts should be made to operations, fertility treatment or domiciliary care packages.

Many people attending these meetings were adamant that they would not support the proposed cuts.

People and union power helped get us to this point, but many would argue that it was never going to happen in the first place.

Off the record

Off the record, senior health managers confirmed they believed the severity of the cuts would never happen.

Was it a ploy to scare the politicians back to Stormont? Or to better inform the public just how much local health and social care services are hanging by a thread?

According to the Department of Health, this is only a temporary reprieve.

While £70m sent shivers down the spine, it is now reported that the initial assessment of the financial position for 2018-19 and 2019-20 is that the health service could face pressures of over some £430m and £670m.

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