THE LOCAL health service has temporarily suspended a plan to cut costs and save money to plug gaps in its budget, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Over the past number of years the Western Trust had announced the need for cost-cutting to take place across its services, as part of a ‘financial recovery plan’ to help make almost £40 million in necessary savings.
Head of the Trust, Dr Anne Kilgallen, has revealed that financial recovery plan has been “paused” for the time being, with coping with the Covid crisis, and the many additional consequences it has had for the health service, its main priority at the moment.
“We have effectively sat the recovery plan to one side,” she said. “The priority has been to respond to Covid and to take whatever steps we needed to take, whether regard PPE or staffing or whatever steps we needed to take.”
Dr Kilgallen, pictured below, added: “That doesn’t mean we are any way that we are less attentive about running our business. We run the business of our organisation as efficiently and effectively as we can. But the actual detail of the financial recovery plan has been set to one side during this period.”
With a growing gap in its budget, there have been threats to a number of services at SWAH and across the Trust in recent years.
Most notably, a previous plan to cut neonatal services at SWAH three years ago were part of a cost cutting plan. The plan was abandoned in the face of strong local public opposition.
Last October the Herald reported the Trust was forecast to have a budget deficit of £35 million by the end of March past. With support from the Department of Health, a board report at that time suggested the Trust would have to make £20 million in savings early this year.
When March came, the Trust announced it was entering into a three year recovery plan to save £39 million.
It is difficult to see where the Trust will be able to make savings going forward. Since the Covid crisis began, it has recruited a significant amount of additional staff to help cope with the influx of patients. With hospital admissions due to the virus now extremely minimal, the Trust is resetting its services, and has stated it intends to retain as many of the additional staff it had taken on during the surge, including student nurses and doctors, as it can.