AS the hard and possibly brutal facts of the health budget will soon be in the public domain, vital community-based health groups around Co Down are waiting anxiously to see if funding can and will continue for another period. Already we are hearing statements from senior civil servants that there could be a melt down in the NHS with disastrous consequences for us all. We may well be reading shortly the obituary for a health system that proffers care from the ‘cradle to the grave.’
Down News spoke to Home-Start to find out how they were coping with the funding pressures. Dorothy McMullan, Senior Co-0rdinator, explained that the organisation had little reserves left and desperately needed a life-line from Stormont through a sensible budget.
She said, “We are now into 2011 and our funds are very low. We can keep going for a few more weeks but after that it will be extremely difficult to maintain our service. Our satellite facilites in Newcastle and Ballynahinch with paid staff are there to help families on the ground, people who would find it difficult because of their circumstances to even travel to a central premises say in Downpatrick. If our funding is slashed vulnerable families in Down will suffer.
“We thankfully received a baleout of £3500 from Down District Council who have been very helpful. This will keep us going for a short time only. We need a secure funding base for the work we do. There is an argument that our organisation should be on a statutory basis so that the service we provide can continue safely. We can deliver this service for a fraction of the cost that the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust can, which is proven. It will be a false saving to cut our funding.
“To date, we have led a strong campaign lobbying all of the relevant parties. All of our local councillors are 100% behind us. And South Down MP Margaret Ritchie kindly sponsored our presentation to MLA’s in the Long Hall at the NI Assembly a short time ago. At the event were South Down MLA’s John McAllister, Caitriona Ruane, Jim Wells, Dawn Purvis and Jim Shannon MP who along with the panel all agreed that funding should be on a 5-10 year cycle.”
‘We have also met with Kate Thompson, Director of Children’s Services at the South Eastern HSC Trust, and we had a meeting with Health Minister McGimpsey. He was sympathetic but said he would not be Health Minister next time round and explained there would likely be a 12% cut in the health budget. He did say that he may he able to help if he had extra funding.”
At the AGM for Home-Start, chaired by TV and radio presenter Gerry Kelly, the organisers, volunteers, MP’s, families, social workers, health visitors, community psychiatric nurses etc were all in support of Home-Start continuing its vital role helping vulnerable and needy families in the community.
Home-Start have fought a magnificent campaign taking their case to the corridors of power enlisting cross-party support. Down District Councillor Billy Walker said, “I welcome the support that Home-Start has received from Down Council. It will benefit the excellent work that they do. They have lobbied well and now the Health Minister having been given an extra £189 milion from the Finance Minister can reconsider the offer he made of making funding available if he was given more funding. He should stick to this promise.
“Myself and Jim Shannon MP went with Home-Start representatives to meet Mr McGimpsey in January and he made it clear he could help if he had more money to work with. Now he should cough up. £2 million would keep Home-Start going across Northern Ireland for two years and give this important organisation a vital breathing space to secure a better funding base.”
Sinn Féin local election candidate Stephen Burns also welcomed the support from Down District Council to Home-Start and added that “Home-Start provides important advice and support to families and helps people cope with post-natal illness, isolation, bereavement, disability, domestic violence and much more. It is a vital service but due to a lack of executive funding from the Health Minister, Michael McGimpsey, MLA, Home-Start may be forced to close its doors for good.
“I am pleased that local politicians have intervened to save Home-Start from imminent closure. The money we have committed will however, only keep the organisation afloat for a couple of months and what is required is additional, long-term funding from the Health Minister. Last week’s budget gave Mr McGimpsey an extra £120million to spend over the next four years and I will be writing to the Minister requesting priority funding for Home-Start until 2015.
“Down District Council’s Health Committee has made numerous requests to meet with the Minister and discuss Home-Start and all their approaches have so far been rebuffed, as the draft budget had not been finalised.
“I hope now that Minister McGimpsey has certainty regarding the budget figures he will agree to meet with the Council’s Health Committee to discuss the long term future of Home-Start in our area”.