“Unfortunately the message is don’t get sick this winter” was the chilling warning from a local union official this week, following the announcement that cuts of almost €50 million are to be imposed across the HSE West region, which takes in both Portiuncula Hospital, Ballinasloe, and Roscommon County Hospital.
Padraig Mulligan of IMPACT trade union said the confirmation of the huge deficit facing the HSE West region compounds fears for the future of services in the region.
“We would appear to have a situation where we have a third world service compared to the rest of the country. The reality is things are bad and we have to face up to them,” he said.
“Seven thousand hours [in temporary staff reductions] is a significant amount. They can’t stop emergencies arriving, they can’t stop maternity. They can only stop planned operations, so the impact will be here. Unfortunately the message is don’t get sick this winter,” he said.
Mr Mulligan was reacting to the news that some €12 million per month will have to be saved in the HSE West region by the end of year, through measures which include the reduction of temporary staff by 7,000 hours per week, strict performance targets, tighter control of absenteeism and sick leave, the redeployment of corporate and support staff, and bed reductions.
While the HSE West entered this year with a projected deficit of €133 million, the projected overrun has since been reduced to €49.5 million. The HSE says that “steps must continue to be taken to ensure that further savings are achieved and that HSE West remains within its allocated budget in 2010, which it is statutorily obliged to do”.
It also confirmed it does not intend to close any hospital in the West, and that “there is no evidence to suggest that the West has been traditionally underfunded when compared to other HSE regions”.
However, Mr Mulligan says it is the most vulnerable members of society who will be most affected by the cuts.
“The bottom line is that a society will always be judged by how it looks after the most vulnerable people. At the moment the most vulnerable are being targeted, particularly with the cutbacks to home help and mental health services. The cuts in these areas are more severe than anywhere else.”
However, he adds that there are several areas where savings can be made, and says his union are in talks with the HSE in an effort to identify these areas.
“We have suggested €80,000 in savings, and others are being costed. The deficit at the start of this year was €133 million; this was brought down to €90m and then €40m as a result of us working with the HSE. There has been a huge drop already,” says Mr Mulligan.
“Everyone needs to work together. I realise now there is a problem that has to be resolved, and it can only be resolved if we work together with the HSE and the Government.”