There is a sense of crisis right across the Health Service in Northern Ireland. Overtime is not on offer, the Trusts are not using agency or bank staff, and there is an effective freeze on filling any staff vacancies that arise. As a result there is mounting pressure on the staff who remain. Bed closures are multiplying and community services are being cut.
These cuts are a consequence of demands from Northern Ireland’s Department of Health on the Trusts to make “efficiency savings” of £700m (or 3% of expenditure each year) over the next three years. On top of that several Trusts have built up deficits which they are being told to reduce. According to Health Minister Michael McGimpsey “They are reporting deficits and these deficits are not permissible under Treasury rules.”
These cuts are only the beginning. The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition is determined to introduce savage cuts across the public sector. Claims that the NHS will be spared are false. The Assembly parties have no strategy to resist the dictates of Westminster and will simply do as they are told.
The attacks on the NHS must be met by determined resistance. Mass community mobilisations will send a loud message to the Executive and Assembly. The NHS trade unions have a duty to organise an effective campaign of co-ordinated industrial action in defence of jobs, pay and conditions. If trade union activists in the hospitals and genuine local community campaigns were to come together in their local areas, and then were to link up across Northern Ireland, the cuts can be halted and reversed.