§ 7. Mr. Beggs
To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what consideration has been given by the Department of Health and Social Services in Northern Ireland to the merits of rationalisation of hospital provision between the Eastern and Northern health and social services boards; and if he will make a statement.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Richard Needham)
The precise pattern of services in each area is a matter for each board to decide in consultation with other boards, as required. Any major changes or closures are likely to require the approval of the Department of Health and Social Services.
§ Mr. Beggs
I thank the Minister for his reply. Does he accept that the working group set up by the Northern health and social services board to examine the Moyle hospital report on the case for the retention and development of acute services at Larne does not inspire confidence that an impartial assessment will be made? Is the Minister aware that the four officers who have been appointed are too closely associated with promoting the board's own policy, which will never be accepted in Ireland? Can the Minister assure the House that this Department will seriously consider this new report and that an enlarged group will be set up that is competent to deal with the issue of cross-board rationalisation? Will he 1161 also reassure us that justice will be done to this report, which has been professionally researched and presented, when it is examined?
§ Mr. Needham
As the hon. Gentleman knows, my noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State has written to those who produced the report and told them that he will look carefully at its contents. He has also made it clear that any rationalisation proposals for acute care will clearly have cross-board dimensions and that they will have to be taken into acount by the boards working together. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's point will be taken into account by my noble Friend.
§ Mr. Kilfedder
I am deeply concerned about the drastic cuts that have been imposed by the Eastern health board. Will the Minister set up a review into the effects that the cuts are having on the hospital and caring services in North Down?
§ Mr. Needham
Since I have been a Northern Ireland Minister the amount of money spent on health care has risen from about £650 million a year to over £1 billion—hardly a cut. As for the particular point that the hon. Gentleman made, I shall draw it to the attention of my noble Friend.
§ Mr. Jim Marshall
The Minister must be aware, however, that public disquiet continues over the proposal to downgrade Moyle hospital to the level of a community hospital, and of the strong belief locally that if that plan is eventually carried out it could involve loss of life in the area. In view of that disquiet, cannot the Minister give a firmer guarantee that he and his ministerial colleagues will review the decision in the near future?
§ Mr. Needham
What will lead to loss of life in an acute hospital is that it is not properly staffed and does not have the right amount of equipment. Small local acute hospitals find it increasingly difficult to take on and retain the right staff and afford the right equipment. The key point about rationalisation is to ensure that we have modern acute facilities, led by the best doctors and nurses to look after our people. That is what we are doing by building the new Antrim hospital at a cost of £30 million.