The real effects of these cuts can be seen with the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service cutting 70,000 hours from front line cover. This will affect people across the North, but will particularly hit those in rural areas that have suffered from years of cuts backs including the closure of several hospitals.
Other decisions on cuts such as the proposal to remove acute services at the Mid-Ulster Hospital, along with the hospital’s A&E department have still to be announced. What is clear is that in order to meet his targets McGimpsey is prepared to run down hospitals in rural areas including the proposal to close a 22 bed ward in Mid-Ulster which is already unable to cope with demand.
The political parties in the Executive are attempting to blame each other to detract attention from the fact that they have jointly agreed to carry out major cuts. At a local level, councillors belonging to the sectarian parties attempt to be seen to be opposed to the cuts. But it is their parties which are carrying out the cuts. If they had any integrity, they would resign from these parties and support local communities campaigning against cuts and health workers taking action to reverse the cuts.
We cannot afford to allow the politicians in the Assembly to cut the health service to shreds. Hospitals and local services are already creaking under the pressure of years of underinvestment. Health workers, the trade unions and local communities must link up to fight the cuts. The health trade unions must prepare now to mobilise their members and begin to prepare for strike action if necessary in order to save the health service. Mass action can force the Executive to climb down. This will require pressure from health workers and a fighting leadership which is prepared to confront the Assembly Executive.