Action needed to stop the health cuts

Tne news that maternity services in Lagan Valley Hospital (LVH) will close in 18 months will be no surprise to workers in the health service as their terms and conditions have been under attack for some time now. The South Eastern Health Trust responsible for LVH acknowledges all acute services are now under review. Chief Executive John Compton states the closure of the maternity unit would save approximately £1 million a year.

This is the same John Compton whose salary jumped from £90,000 to £134,285 for “efficiency” savings under the Review of Public Administration. Compton has argued the need for these efficiency savings to secure over £75 million investment for healthcare in the area. What he didn’t say was this ‘investment’ would mean opening up healthcare to the private sector.

The decimation of acute in-hospital services will no doubt put lives at risk in the Down and Lisburn area as LVH provides services for more than 125,000 people. The closing of acute services in LVH leaves serious questions over the future of the A&E department; forcing people to make almost an hours journey to A&E departments in Belfast or Craigavon. This is at the same time as the Assembly Executive is discussing reducing A&E services in Belfast from three major trauma sites to one in the Royal Victoria, with two nurse-led units in Belfast City and Mater Hospitals. It is unlikely maternity units in Belfast or Craigavon would be able to handle Lagan Valley’s 1,200 births a year, as services are already stretched to the maximum. In 2007 alone, there were 6000 births in the Royal Maternity Belfast, exceeding the projected maximum number of 4,800 births.

This pressure on service provision also comes at a time when management of the Belfast Trust are attacking terms and conditions of workers.  The trust is demanding savings of £131 million over three years by cutting over 2000 jobs in a drive to meet the 3% efficiency savings set by the Assembly.  Management have introduced a ‘redeployment policy’ which forces workers to be sent to any area or hospital within the Belfast Trust. Senior managers are demanding workers “change the way they think things must be done” through the “new ways of working policy”. This means staff are expected to accept shortages and excessive workload as they carry out the work of those who have lost their jobs.

A campaign must now be launched by health workers and the trade unions alongside those in the communities to defend the NHS. Meetings need to be held to publicise these attacks and to organise a campaign. Together with demonstrations of health workers and communities, the health service trade unions also need to seriously look towards calling industrial action to stop the cuts.

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