Services shake-up in N Ireland welcomed

Northern Ireland’s social services face a major overhaul under plans unveiled last week.

Health minister Shaun Woodward said he would cut bureaucracy and waste by replacing the country’s four health and social service boards with a single strategic authority, and by reducing the number of health and social services trusts from 18 to five.

He also wants to set up seven local commissioning groups to match the boundaries of Northern Ireland’s proposed new district councils.

Cecil Worthington, chair of the Association of Directors of Social Services Northern Ireland branch, welcomed the move towards greater coterminosity. “One of the things that has plagued us is that education boards, health boards and councils have all straddled across each other, which has made interagency working difficult,” he said.

While the timetable for the new trusts to become fully operational by April 2007 would be “challenging”, he said longer implementation could “sap energy away from the coalface”.

The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety said it was too early to say how much money the reforms would save from the 155m spent on running existing bodies.

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