Northern Ireland: consultation on cuts a ‘sham’, says ICTU

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) has slammed a public consultation on proposed health cuts in Northern Ireland as a ‘sham’.

In August, health trusts unveiled £70m of cost-saving proposals that were open to a public consultation after they had been asked to deliver the savings by the Department of Health.

ICTU has said in a letter, signed by 11 health unions, to Permanent Secretary Richard Pengelly, that he and the health department are putting patients at ‘risk’.

Since the Northern Ireland Assembly was suspended in summer, the province has been without a health minister. In the absence of a health minister, Mr Pengelly is in charge of running the department.

The letter said that, even though the public consultation closed on 5 October, trust boards have been instructed to meet in mid-October to make final cuts decisions.

It said: ‘It is now clear that the curtailed public consultation by trusts is no more than a sham.’

The letter also criticised the actions in light of additional funding that has been announced for the health service in England, which is likely to have a positive impact on the overall NI allocation of funds. And that a further £1bn was agreed to be paid to Northern Ireland as a result of the agreement between the UK Government and the DUP.

The unions said that to impose £70m of cuts on trusts halfway through the current financial year when there would most likely be flexibility in the future health allocation is ‘irresponsible and beyond the function of either a permanent secretary or the CEO of the health and social care system’.   

The unions who have signed the letter include Unite, the Royal College of Midwives, UNISON, NIPSA, and the Hospital Consultant and Specialists' Association.

The union body also said the consultation is making a mockery of the current health commissioning plan.

It described the consultation around the proposed cuts as lacking any genuine commitment to find other solutions to the financial problems.

Further accusations made in the letter include breaching the department's own equality scheme by issuing instructions to health trusts to breach their own equality schemes.

Kevin McAdam, Unite’s lead industrial officer for Northern Ireland, said that there had been no response from Richard Pengelly or the health department.  

When asked for a response to the criticisms in the letter, a Department of Health spokesperson said: ‘The department received the letter from NIC ICTU last week. It is an important contribution to the consultation process.’