Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Outsourcing of medical services is ‘privatisation by stealth’ – McAteer

Independent Newry City Councillor Kevin McAteer has slammed the Southern Trust for outsourcing services to private firms after some of his constituents revealed they had travelled to Belfast and Hillsborough to get scans at private clinics.

Newry Independent Councillor Kevin McAteer said the practice of outsourcing showed a lack of confidence in NHS services and said the reasons why waiting lists are under so much strain needed addressed.

“The Trust have indicated that outsourcing helps in times of increased pressure and stress on NHS waiting lists but we must ask ourselves why the waiting lists in question are under so much strain in the first place,” said Mr McAteer.

“It seems that our current NHS is under so much pressure and strain that effectively the Trust cannot cope with the pressure and therefore feels the need to outsource to a private firm.”

The Independent Councillor added, “We shouldn’t have to outsource in the first place, our NHS should be able to cope on its own but we are now in a situation whereby our NHS has long waiting lists, over-worked and under-paid staff and services being cut right across the board. The Trust can sugar coat this all they want, our NHS is under considerable strain and taking more services from Daisy Hill would spell disaster.”

Councillor McAteer questioned the outsourcing of stroke treatment services following the centralisation of the Stroke Unit to Craigavon area hospital.  Revealing that he had spoken to a stroke survivor who, whilst undergoing rehabilitation, was referred to a private clinic in Belfast for treatment instead of Craigavon’s new “bigger and better centre of excellence”, Mr McAteer said,

“I don’t understand how they can justify moving the Stroke Unit to Craigavon and subsequently outsource services to private companies at the same time.

“Personally I believe the whole thing stinks of privatisation by stealth. There are a lot of questions that need answered here. I don’t see the benefit of outsourcing to private firms, I, along with many others, believe in our NHS and I believe that it is vitally important to protect it.”

The Southern Trust has defended the use of outsourcing as a method of reducing patient waiting times and said that patients who are offered services with a private health firm can chose to take the appointment or remain on the waiting list.

“Patients have the option of attending an appointment with an independent provider or they can choose to wait longer for an appointment in a Trust hospital,” said the Trust representative.

“An independent provider is used when the Trust does not have sufficient capacity within our own hospitals to meet the needs of our population for a particular speciality.

“Financial help with travel costs is available for patients attending an appointment who are on a low income, or are in receipt of some benefits.”