The Western Health and Social Care Trust (WHSCT) plans to make savings of almost £40 million pounds over the next three years, with the Pathfinder initiative one of the vehicles to be used to impose the cuts. A document from the Trust that has been leaked to the Impartial Reporter states:

“The Trust will have to deliver a balanced budget and this will mean reducing our expenditure by five per cent which is in the region of £39m”.

Mr Brendan McKeever, a non executive director of the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB), has said that as a result of these cuts “there would be serious implications for the Western Trust population in terms of further reduction of services”.

The comments were made at a meeting of the HSCB at which it was also reported that the Western Trust had a deficit by £24.4m. The same meeting revealed that all other Trusts had reported break-even or marginal surplus positions.

Speaking at the meeting Mr. Paul Cummings, Director of Finance at the HSCB said “it would be important that the population of the Western Trust clearly understood that the Trust had overspent by £24.4 million and that the Trust expenditure level would have to be reduced to address this overspend.”

In a statement to the Impartial Reporter following a number of questions the WHSCT said:

“The Trust is facing significant financial challenges and the three year programme includes a range of projects which will help the Trust stabilise its finances and achieve a balanced financial position by 2022.”

In the Trust document seen by this newspaper, entitled ‘Financial Recovery Programme’ three phases to that recovery are laid out.

Phase two, which commenced in April of this year, identifies six areas where savings are to be made. Included in these are a redesign of Family and Childcare services, Improving efficiency and effectiveness of surgical pathways and Prototypes; these are expected to emerge from the work that the pathfinder team is leading”.

In respect to the inclusion of pathfinder among the mechanisms to provide cost savings in their three year plan the Trust said pathfinder was about providing “improved care”.

“Pathfinder is not a cost saving project, it is a process aimed at delivering affordable and improved health and social care services in Fermanagh and West Tyrone.”

Members of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council met with members of the Pathfinder team recently. Newly elected Alternative Labour councillor, Donal O’Cofaigh was among those who attended that meeting and speaking this week he was critical of both the proposed cuts and the Pathfinder project:

“The so-called Financial Recovery Programme produced by the WHSCT confirms fears among campaigners that the Pathfinder initiative was little more than a ploy to undermine the rising tide of opposition to the loss of local services and the devastating impact of austerity cuts,” he said before adding.

“Assurances that it was not about cutting back are demonstrably untrue given the inclusion of the initiative as a key element in phase two of a plan to deliver a £39 million annual expenditure reduction in three years.”

The Impartial Reporter can also reveal that the Permanent Secretary for Health in Northern Ireland, Richard Pengelly, is taking a hands on approach to ensure that the cuts are delivered.

The March minutes of the HSCB stated that its Finance Director, Mr Cummings “confirmed that the Trust had not been able to meet its statutory obligation to breakeven and, as such, an escalation process had been put in place. He advised that he was a member of a group, chaired by the Permanent Secretary, which would take forward work to develop a recovery plan for the Trust”.

The Trust, in their statement to the Impartial Reporter has said that the current cost of services are unsustainable.

“As a provider of health and social care services we cannot continue to deliver these services at the current cost, we have to think differently. The status quo is not sustainable and we have an opportunity to change the way we do things now.”

The Trust also revealed that it had “through a competitive process, appointed a financial expert who will provide support to the Trust in its financial recovery work”.

It is understood from a number of sources that this individual has worked with several NHS Trusts in the UK to help deliver cost saving initiatives over the past number of years.