HC Deb 21 October 1993 vol 230 cc372-3
3. Mrs. Helen Jackson

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he last discussed with members of the Eastern health and social services board the question of the closure of and reduction in hospitals in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Ancram

The Secretary of State has had no discussions with members of the Eastern health and social services board about the provision of hospital services. My noble Friend Lord Arran keeps in regular contact with the board about the progress in the development of its strategy for acute hospital services.

Mrs. Jackson

Further to the question he has just answered, does the Minister agree that the effect—HON. MEMBERS: "Reading".] I am not reading.

Mr. Ancram

The hon. Lady is doing exactly the opposite of what I asked her to do, and is speculating on what might be in the report. That speculation negates the process, of which I will remind her.

The Government set out their overall policy and objectives and, once that is done, the health and social services board is expected to respond with its own area strategy. On this occasion, the Eastern and Southern boards have chosen to supplement their area strategies with separate documents for acute hospital services. However, the consultation and approval process remains the same, and will be carried out as it always is in such circumstances.

Mr. John D. Taylor

As local people and their representatives in Northern Ireland have no say whatever in the operation of the Eastern health and social services board, will the Minister draw to that body's attention, at his next meeting with it, the fact that the population of Belfast has fallen from 400,000 to 280,000 in the past 10 years? Will he tell the board that there is now an overcapacity in the provision of hospital beds in the city of Belfast, and that we want the board to provide more hospital facilities to serve the people of the Castlereagh, Ards and North Down boroughs, which are increasing in population day by day?

Mr. Ancram

I am sure that the board will have heard the right hon. Gentleman's words in the House today. He will understand, however, that the process will work only if the board is allowed to formulate its strategy, subject to its own process, and bring it before the Minister. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that, once that is done, the Minister will consider the strategy fully in the light of all the representations made.

Mr. Hume

Does not the Minister agree that the real purpose of his health policy is nothing to do with improving health, and that the Government are turning hospitals into marketplaces for making a profit? Does he not agree with the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mrs. Jackson) that services such as maternity services should be as close to the people as possible, especially in rural areas? Why does the hon. Gentleman propose to close the maternity services unit in Omagh in County Tyrone?

Mr. Ancram

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman, of all people, has not watched carefully the improvements that have been made in health service provision in Northern Ireland. Let me give him one or two figures. In the past five years, the number of patients treated in hospitals each year has increased by 41,000, or some 17 per cent. In the past two years, the number of patients waiting more than two years for treatment has decreased by 82 per cent. In the past 10 years, deaths from coronary heart disease among those under the age of 65 have fallen from 230 per 100,000 to 153 per 100,000—a drop of 33 per cent. I wish that the hon. Gentleman would sometimes talk up the health service and show the good work that it does in Northern Ireland.

Mr. William O'Brien

Will the Minister prevail on the noble Lord Arran to visit the hospitals in the Eastern health and social services board area, to talk to those who provide the services and to listen to some of their genuine concerns? We know that there is no democratic accountability in the boards, but, at present, there are local health and social services councils. Under the new arrangements, those councils will be dispensed with and there will be no opportunity for people to bring forward local interests to be acted upon. Will the Minister impress on his colleague Lord Arran that he should discuss such matters with the people who provide the services and listen to what they are saying, as that is most important?

Mr. Ancram

I am sure that my noble Friend Lord Arran will have heard the hon. Gentleman's request. I repeat that consultation plays a full part in the process. I also repeat what I said right at the beginning—that my noble Friend intends to visit health and social care facilities in the Down district, including the Downe hospital, in the near future.

Forward to