HC Deb 27 February 1992 vol 204 cc1106-7
8. Mr. Stevens

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what initiatives are being taken to reduce hospital waiting lists in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Hanley

From 1 April this year, the vast majority of patients will be guaranteed admission to hospital within two years of being placed on a hospital waiting list. Special task forces have been at work in each board to deal with the longest waiting lists and I have set aside an extra £1 million this year and in each of the next two years to support their work.

Mr. Stevens

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply, which I am sure will be welcome to the people of Northern Ireland. I hope that there will be the same success in cutting waiting lists in Northern Ireland as we have seen in other parts of the United Kingdom. I know that my hon. Friend is aware that the waiting list for treatment of coronary disease has been a matter of concern in Northern Ireland. What action has he taken to deal with that specific waiting list?

Mr. Hanley

My hon. Friend is right. Unfortunately, Northern Ireland suffers from one of the worst rates of coronary heart disease. Following completion of the £1.5 million extension to the cardiac care recovery unit at the Royal Victoria hospital at the end of last year, a fourth cardiac surgeon has now been appointed there. The new surgeon, a locum, will take up his post on 1 May this year for an initial period of one year. That will lead to an increase in the number of operations at the Royal. In addition, the Eastern and Western boards have already begun to buy in cardiac operations from Great Britain this year and the Northern and Southern boards are expected to do likewise shortly. I hope that the waiting list for cardiac surgery will reduce greatly over the next year.

Mr. Beggs

Does the Minister accept that patients, irrespective of age group, should not have to undergo prolonged suffering, being fobbed off with medication from time to time when cardiac surgery is necessary? Will he urgently encourage all boards to purchase coronary artery bypass surgery and other cardiac surgery from Great Britain?

Mr. Hanley

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right and I agree with every word he says. Cardiac surgery has the longest waiting list in Northern Ireland, but every effort is being made to reduce it, including the purchase of operations in Britain. I believe that great progress will be made.

Sir Michael McNair-Wilson

In considering hospital waiting lists, is my hon. Friend satisfied that all those who would benefit from renal replacement therapy are getting it and has he anything to announce about a possible new satellite dialysis unit for the Province?

Mr. Hanley

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. I am afraid that he is right: not everybody is benefiting from kidney replacement, because there is a shortage of kidney donors. We could probably carry out about 70 more operations a year if there were more donors. I therefore launched the donor card again last week. I hope that every hon. Member, and everyone in Northern Ireland, will carry a donor card; it is vital that people do so.