WORRYING words this week as the Health Service union Unison upgrade – downgrade? – their estimate of how many jobs will go in the sweeping cuts that are to sweep across the Belfast Trust.

It’s claimed the new, Health Service-wide Business Shared Services Organisation will allow the amalgamation and streamlining of back-office services, saving money and increasing performance; quite simply, Unison say the new super-office will mean more job losses, bringing the number of Trust staff set to lose their jobs closer to the 1,000 mark than the 600 they initially feared.

For West Belfast, of course, this is no dry politico-economic debate – any loss of jobs at the Trust’s flagship Royal Victoria Hospital complex will hit us harder than another part of the city. The number of families who depend, directly or indirectly, on RVH jobs income for survival is huge. It is no exaggeration to say that the RVH is the beating heart of our local economy. It is not just hospital workers who depend on the RVH to keep their head above water, the knock-on benefits spread far and wide, like ripples on a lake, to the benefit of a wide range of businesses and services, large and small.

The Belfast Trust can spin the debate as hard and fast as they want, but the vast majority of people recognise that the job cuts are going to be wide and hard-hitting – just how wide and how hard-hitting is where the debate now stands. Unison estimates that a third of the Trust jobs that do eventually go will be lost at the Royal, which is to say that, based on the revised figures that the hospital union is working on, some 300 jobs could go at the RVH.

Of course, it won’t be the consultants and the suits who feel the wintry blast of this latest economic ice-age. Highly-paid clinical staff will no doubt remain relatively untouched by the swinging axe; rather, it will be those at the lower end of the Health Service pay scale – support staff and ancillary workers – who are overwhelmingly up for the chop. And guess what end of that particular table the vast majority of West Belfast RVH workers find themselves at. Similarly, those bureaucrats on six-figure salaries and large expense accounts won’t be losing much sleep about the effect of ‘cost-saving’ measures that they themselves have devised and that they themselves are tasked with implementing. Again, it is the worker-ants of the clerical classes, the people who power the Health Service day in and day out, who will be in the cross-hairs.

In recent weeks and months, the Andersonstown News has been busy exposing how comprehensively West Belfast has been let down by those tasked with bringing jobs and investment to this part of the city – particularly Invest NI, whose West Belfast blind spot is as wide as the bleak and desolate business park sites that have never seen a business. In a part of the North which suffers more today, and has suffered more historically, from institutional neglect than any other, what few jobs there are must be loudly and vigorously protected. Time for our politicians to start earning their corn.