THE South Eastern Trust’s chief executive has told the council that financial difficulties in health spending will “not affect the future of the Downe Hospital”. Roisin Coulter was responding to a question tabled by Downpatrick SDLP councillor Gareth Sharvin at a special local authority health meeting on Monday.
Beginning her presentation, the chief executive said that the current situation is the worst it has ever been in her career “in terms of the challenges that health and social care is facing”. She also stated that “the challenges from waiting times are absolutely unacceptable, as everybody knows”. “There really are tremendous financial challenges,” Ms Coulter continued.
“There isn’t the money to provide the services that we are currently providing, never mind looking how we develop new ones. “My understanding is that, in health alone, they are expecting a £450m overspend by the end of March. “Again, that is going to be very, very difficult in terms of public money available to provide the health and social care services that we would want to, going forward, to meet growing demand.” Cllr Sharvin said that the overspend figure set alarm bells ringing, particularly given that there is no Assembly in place to find a way of covering it. “Is there a possibility of you giving us assurances that the future of the Downe, as it is today, is secure, and that no services from the Downe or any resource would be cut to cover that overspend or need to be found?” he asked.
The chief executive responded: “Absolutely, the financial position will not affect the future of the Downe Hospital. “The Downe Hospital is absolutely critical – it is needed, and, all the services in there, we will want to support and strengthen going forward. “We will need to manage, as a Department of Health, the financial burdens that are placed across us. “So many of our services are absolutely essential and we must prioritise those.” Ms Coulter added that there are “always efficiencies that we can make in a very large organisation”, and that the Trust is “looking at how we can make savings to contribute, without having an impact on service provision”.
“There are ongoing conversations with the Department of Finance and across the wider financial piece at Westminster in relation to that,” she said. “It is going to be very challenging going forward, but it has been challenging for a long time. “So, really, I always try to make sure that our teams are focused on the right things, which are patient safety and supporting the staff that work in the Trust to deliver the best possible services. “Yes, we keep sight of the financial position, but that cannot be the primary driver. “The Downe and all its services are absolutely vital.” Responding to questions from Cllr Sharvin and DUP Slieve Croob councillor Alan Lewis on the current operation of the hospital’s urgent care centre, which replaced its emergency department, the chief executive said that it is “working very well”.
She also stated patients like the “phone first” model, which as part of the review of urgent and emergency care, will be rolled out across Northern Ireland. Ms Coulter concluded that the Trust is keen to make sure that the services in the Downe Hospital are sustainable, though did not rule out future change in terms of emergency care locally. “We know at a given and appropriate time the Trust will be keen to hold a public consultation exercise in relation to what the model should be going forward and what is possible in the Down area,” she said.