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Closure of Armagh’s Minor Injuries Unit ‘will save no more than £50,000’

Armagh’s Minor Injuries Unit is to CLOSE in less than three weeks time – a drastic move which will save the health coffers no more than £50,000, it has been claimed.

The Southern Health and Social Services Trust chief executive Mairead McAlinden issued a paper to local political representatives before the news was confirmed to media.

And local SDLP Councillor Thomas O’Hanlon warned of a real winter of discontent and predicted more cutbacks to come.

The Armagh MIU will see a “temporary closure” from Monday, November 17.

It is due to remain closed until March next year but there is a possibility that it may become permanent.

In the meantime, patients requiring the use of the Minor Injuries Unit can either WAIT and see their own GP, go to the MIU at South Tyrone Hospital in Dungannon, or attend the Emergency Department at either Craigavon Area Hospital or Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry.

The Armagh MIU, based at the Community Hospital at Tower Hill, has been under threat for some time.

There had been calls from local politicians to ‘use it or lose it’ ahead of today’s confirmation.

Figures presented in the briefing paper by the chief executive show that the MIU, which is open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, had a daily average of 36 in April past and 31 in August, never exceeding 36 in the interim months.

Today’s news comes after the Ministerial budget statement, which led to the Southern Trust confirming details of the savings plans which will now be implemented to ensure the Trust achieves “financial break even” this year.

SDLP Councillor Thomas O’Hanlon, speaking after meeting Trust chief executive Mairead McAlinden this afternoon, said today’s announcements by the Minister for Health and the Southern Health and Social Care Trust to slash an additional £2.9 million from local budgets are a “devastating blow to the most vulnerable in the local community”.

He told Armagh I: “‘Today’s cost cutting announcements by the Southern Trust are a major blow, and the ramifications will be felt near and far.

“In Armagh City the Minor Injuries Unit in Armagh is to ‘temporarily close’ until April 2015 from Monday, November 17.

“This is yet another hammering for the community of Armagh City and District and, whilst the Trust tells us it is only a temporary measure, I would not be surprised if it does not open again in the new financial year after today’s Budget Agreement between the DUP and Sinn Fein.

“What’s more, the Trust is now creating a four week waiting list for those who need new or enhanced care packages in the home. This will hit those who need it most – the elderly, the frail and the disabled. The Trust has advised us that this will not impact those being discharged from hospital, but rather the referrals from within the community, from GPs and social workers. This will impact about 60% of new referrals – it’s absolutely unbelievable.

“We already know the Trust is consulting on the closure of the Gillis Unit in Armagh, Loane House in Dungannon as well as Lurgan Hospital. Today they are restricting admissions to Loane House and reducing beds before the consultation even ends.

“Mark my words, we will see a real winter of discontent ahead, we will see A&E Units bursting at the seams, we will see more people in hospital because they are not getting the care in the community they need.

“It will get even more difficult to get an appointment with your GP and the knock-on impact will be long delays in A&E. This is not taking into account the normal pressure on hospitals during the winter months.

“What really galls me is that the closure of the Minor Injuries Unit in Armagh will save the Trust approximately £45-£50k from now until April, as they intend to redeploy staff. It costs that amount to police the protest at Twaddel Avenue in Belfast for one night.

“The Stormont Executive really has got its priorities wrong and this evening the First and Deputy First Minister are the cheerleaders for their budget agreement for next year.

“Today’s announcements are only the start – a further £870 million has to be found across the public sector next year.”

Chief Executive Mairead McAlinden said the Trust had already put in place plans to save £6m this year.

She stated: “These savings have been based on the principle of supporting priority patient and client care and the maintenance of essential services, and are being delivered through strict controls on staff recruitment, travel, training and education, and controlling overspending in areas such as domiciliary care.

“While delivering these savings continues to be extremely challenging, we have been able to maintain frontline services and protect care delivery.

“However, the Trust is now required to make additional savings of £2.9m by the end of March 2015.

“To achieve this, the Regional Board has approved over £1m of further workforce controls and the temporary step down of a number of services to release funds for critical health and social care provision.”

The services which will be directly affected also include Loane House, at the South Tyrone Hospital in Dungannon, which will experience an “ongoing flexible reduction of beds”, the Paediatric Ambulatory Unit in South Tyrone, which will see a reduction of opening hours, and the introduction of a four-week waiting list for “non-urgent packages” of domiciliary care.

The chief executive continued: “For all Trusts, the level of funding for waiting list initiatives to achieve target waiting times for elective (planned) care and treatment has also been reduced from previous years.

“This means that waiting times for assessment, diagnostic tests and treatment in the Southern Trust will continue to increase.

“The Trust is committed to using this reduced funding to ensure, as far as possible, that patients are treated on the basis of clinical urgency and our Trust Board has already agreed action to address some immediate issues at financial risk pending the Minister’s announcement.”

She said that, all of these measures would remain in place until March 2015 but added: “After this, should we find it necessary to make any of these changes permanent, normal consultation will be undertaken.”

Ms McAlinden said existing workforce controls would remain and it was expected this measure would protect the jobs of permanent staff where they are “prepared to be flexible” in terms of redeployment and changes to their role.

“All Trusts have had to prepare a range of contingency proposals to address the difficult financial position, minimising as far as possible, any potential negative impact on patient and client care, and at all times putting the safety of patients and clients as our first priority,” added the chief executive.

Away from the public release, politicians were informed in a separate contingency briefing paper from the chief executive that staff had met earlier today with those employees most affected by the changes and were assured the Trust would “listen to their concerns and work with them”. Those not in work today will be followed up through “line management briefing”.

The paper adds: “While the workforce controls are very challenging, we are managing these by holding vacant posts where these are less critical than front line care and reducing spend on our flexible workforce. This approach is intended to protect the jobs of permanent staff and staff have been asked to be flexible and work with the Trust in relation to any necessary redeployment and changes to their role.

“I fully appreciate that as a public representative you may be concerned that these changes may lead to increased risk, and I can assure you that senior management are doing their very best to support staff in managing this.

“Every member of staff will do their best to manage these changes and the financial challenge in the interests of our patients and clients, and we will work together to make any necessary changes to address unacceptable risks.

“Staff know that if they have any concerns they can raise these directly with their line manager, Trade Union representatives or the Trust’s Whistleblowing Policy.”
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