Health chiefs will be put in the hot seat on Monday amid growing concerns access to transport will have on local services.
It is just one of a number of issues – including differences between pay for nurses in Northern Ireland and other parts of the UK – which they are to be challenged on during the course of a special meeting of Newry, Mourne and Down District Council.
The local authority has written to the Southern Health Trust’s chief executive and asked that answers be given at a meeting to take place on Monday.
Various concerns have been highlighted.
These include budget reductions for Community Transport and the “lack of direct public access routes” between Newry and Mourne and Craigavon Area Hosptial.
There are fears these could lead to increased levels of ‘no shows’ for appointments at outpatient clinics and will also mean “access to services for the people of our district will be restricte”.
And the letter to the Trust asks if it intends to provide “additional outpatient clinics at Daisy Hill” in order that ‘equality of access’ is available across the south eastern area.
Also to be discussed at the meeting will be the committee’s views on what it perceives the “high turnover of staff in private domiciliary care providers due to poor working conditions and pay” and the belief this is “having a significant knock on effect with regard to delays in the provision of care packages and therefore on hospital discharges”.
The council also hopes to ask the Trust what it is doing to “address the discrepancies between nursing salaries in Northern Ireland and other parts of the UK”, something which is having a “consequent impact on recruitment” here.
The opinion that the Health Service will “not be able to cope” without a robust community and voluntary sector is also highlighted in the correspondence, with concerns that more crisis provision is having to be provided due to lack of funding for early intervention work in areas such as domestic violence.
“There is an onus on all Trusts to revisit their contract arrangements with a view to strengthening them,” the letter states.
And, in particular, it refers to the Rural Health Partnership which provides “valuable early intervention work in an isolated rural community and who have not had an increase in funding for nine years”.
Proposals for changes to the delivery of small equipment are also to be discussed, as councillors feel there could be delays, adding that there must not be “differential negative impacts in rural areas”.
Clarity will also be sought over Brexit and how and if the Trust has made any representations to the Irish and British Governments over the potential impact on local services.