HC Deb 10 February 1983 vol 36 c1130
3. Rev. Martin Smyth

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement about the new Belfast city hospital block and the implications for future financing of the hospital services in Northern Ireland.

The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. John Patten)

Allowing time for its commission, the new Belfast city hospital will come into use in the summer of 1985 at a total estimated capital cost, including equipment and fees, of £62.5 million at December 1982 prices. It will provide greatly enhanced inpatient and outpatient facilities for the Greater Belfast area as well as some specialised regional services.

The net additional running costs will be met by the Eastern board from a combination of additional moneys allocated specifically for the purpose and savings to be found by the board from greater efficiency in the use of present resources, including a further rationalisation of acute hospital services in the area.

Rev. Martin Smyth

I welcome that statement, but is the Minister aware of suggestions that it is more economical to delay completion of the project than to try to operate it as a viable economic unit?

Mr. Patten

I am aware of those suggestions and I should be the first to admit that the saga of the Belfast city hospital has not been entirely happy. We believe, however, that it would be a great mistake to mothball such a splendid new building, which will provide first-class additional facilities for the whole Province and especially for the hon. Gentleman's constituency.

Dr. Mawhinney

How many extra staff will be employed as a consequence of opening the new block?

Mr. Patten

There will be a level transfer of staff from the present Belfast city hospital to the new tower block, although there may be changes in numbers above and below establishment in certain nursing specialties.

Mr. Molyneaux

Will the Minister give an assurance that the escalating costs of the hospital will in no way reduce financial allocations to the Northern board which would prevent work proceeding on the new hospital in Antrim?

Mr. Patten

We shall be making about £2 million extra available to the Eastern board to help run the Belfast hospital when it is completed and when it is open in 1985. I am well aware of the hon. Gentleman's concern that the proposed Antrim hospital should begin as soon as possible. We hope that it will begin as soon as possible after 1984–85. We have certainly learnt from some of the unfortunate experiences surrounding the building of the tower block in Belfast and we hope that the Antrim project will not suffer from the same problems.