By Alan Healy

Senior health figures in Derry say that a number of recent local meetings held to discuss controversial budget cuts were ‘very difficult and very challenging’.

They made the comments to Derry and Strabane councillors, who were discussing the ongoing cuts crisis.

Earlier this year, The Western Trust was asked to find £12.5m in savings before the end of the financial year on March 31 next year.

The five health trusts in Northern Ireland had been told by the Department of Health in August that they must implement savings of a total of £70m.

A six-week public consultation was held on the proposed savings plan, which included a number of 'controversial' proposals including the merger of Rectory Field and William Street Care Homes and a reduction in domiciliary care packages.

The consultation included a number of public meetings in Derry, which resulted in protests and anger from those in attendance over the proposed cuts.

However, the most controversial of these cuts were shelved after an additional £40million was made to the Department of Health.

Both the proposed cuts and the public meetings were discussed at Thursday’s meeting of Derry City and Strabane District Council, where senior figures from the Western Trust addressed the council’s Health and Community Committee.

Speaking at the meeting, Lesley Mitchell, Director of Finance and Contracting with the Trust, described the public meetings, held at Altnagelvin Hospital, the Verbal Arts Centre and the Foyle Arena, were ‘very difficult and very challenging’.

She added that the consultation process was also ‘difficult and challenging but fair’, and had ‘reflected the concerns in the community’.

Unfair position

Commenting, the Sinn Fein councillor Christopher Jackson described the cuts imposed in the Trust as ‘cynical’, and praised the Trust’s staff for how they conducted themselves ‘during very challenging consultations’.

“It was unfair to Trust staff to be put in that position,” he added.

The SDLP’s Tina Gardiner also ‘acknowledged the difficult time’ the Trust staff had at the meetings, but added that people were ‘sick of the one-way traffic where cuts are concerned’.

Meanwhile, Teresa Molloy, Director of Performance & Service Improvement, added that while the Trust would have to reduce its cleaning services to ‘balance its books at the end of the year’, it would not affect public spaces.

Commenting, the independent councillor Paul Gallagher said that he had concerns that ‘come next April, we’ll be in crisis again’.

Mrs Mitchell then confirmed that the Trust will be facing a ‘sizeable financial challenge’ by next April with a projected deficit of over £50m.

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