South’s health care fund cut by €115m

With €115 million less to spend in 2012 and down more than 4,500 staff from a peak five years ago, a series of cuts are set to further decimate health services in the south of the country.

South’s health care fund cut by €115m

Bed closures in acute hospitals, elderly care units, and mental health services are among the cutbacks outlined in the HSE South regional service plan, which was published yesterday.

With the exception of politically sensitive child care services, no aspect of the health service escaped, with €28m slashed from hospital budgets, where carryover deficits in excess of €26m bring the total burden to €55m for 2012.

Primary care, mooted by the Government as the pillar on which to build health care, will see its budget cut by €6m. Almost €9m will be slashed from the budget for services for older people, and home help hours will also reduce. Disability services will lose €11.5m, mental health €11.5m, and social inclusion services €1.2m.

Child protection and welfare services will get an additional €3m but against a backdrop of budgetary overruns in 2011, the level of net gain is unclear.

The service plan, to be funded from a €1.7 billion budget, outlines plans to:

* Close 93 beds in hospitals across the South and South East, including 35 surgical beds at Cork University Hospital, which starts the year down €19m on 2011; 18 beds at the Mercy University Hospital and 30 surgical beds at Waterford.

* Implement seasonal bed closures in St Luke’s in Kilkenny, Kerry General, Mallow, Bantry, Wexford, and the South Infirmary Victoria University Hospital as well as Cork University Maternity Hospital.

* Reduce by 128 the bed numbers in elderly care units, including 60 in Carlow/Kilkenny, 31 in Kerry, 22 in Cork, and 15 in Waterford/Wexford.

In addition, 736 people will leave the service by the end of this month under the public service retirement programme.

Fianna Fáil health spokesman Billy Kelleher said he was “stunned” by the planned level of service reduction.

“It strips away any notion that the Government is even pretending to protect frontline services. It will clearly have a devastating impact on the ability of staff to deliver, especially at CUH to which so many services are being transferred.”

Pat Healy, HSE South regional director of operations, said they were hoping to offset the effect of the reductions through improved rostering and flexibility under public service agreements; through reducing the time patients spend in hospitals and through replacing staff in priority frontline areas. He said there had been buy-in from the unions, but that they would have to “escalate the pace of that change” in 2012.

Tea cut

Few expect to have their cake and eat it in times of recession, but when bread and butter are struck from the menu, it’s really taking the biscuit.

So it is that staff at CUH and Cork University Maternity Hospital have cried foul at the latest cost-saving measure aired by management.

On Wednesday, staff received a letter from CUH finance officer Terry Kiely warning of a need to make urgent savings — by eliminating the tradition of staff enjoying a free cup of tea, and bread and butter while looking after their patients. He says it would generate annual savings of €84,000 and take effect from Monday.

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