HC Deb 07 December 1995 vol 268 cc480-1
3. Rev. Martin Smyth

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what will be the effect of the funding of Royal Victoria hospital capital projects on other capital developments in the health service; and if he will make a statement. [3031]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Malcolm Moss)

The Royal Victoria hospital scheme is one of a number of major capital schemes currently being taken forward. Others are at Causeway in Coleraine, the Royal Belfast hospital for sick children, at Craigavon and at the Altnagelvin hospital in Londonderry. Together with a programme for health and safety improvements, that commits the bulk of resources over the next few years. In line with the Chancellor's Budget statement, I will be looking more and more to private finance to take forward new schemes.

Rev. Martin Smyth

Does the Minister agree that it is rather strange that wholesale capital investment went ahead at the Royal Victoria hospital before the McKenna report was published, bearing in mind the fact that the Minister did not release funds for the development of Belvoir Park hospital, which would have been much more minimal, until the report appeared? Is the Minister aware of continuing anxiety that the Ulster hospital, which has been waiting a considerable time for capital finance, is still waiting? Will he re-examine the private finance initiative concept and say whether it will be applied to capital work or specialty services?

Mr. Moss

The Royal Victoria capital project was agreed and endorsed by the Eastern health board and by Dr. McKenna's reorganisation project. A business case has been made for the Ulster hospital and it is currently with the Department of Finance. As to Belvoir Park, I have commissioned a report under the Chief Medical Officer to investigate cancer services in Northern Ireland. When I have that report before me, I shall make a decision regarding capital requirements at hospitals providing cancer services.

Mr. McGrady

Is the Minister aware of the grave disappointment that his answers will cause the people of Down, who for three decades have been waiting for a modest capital scheme to improve the Downe group of hospitals? The injustice is that Downe, having passed efficiency and business tests with flying colours, is now subjected to a private finance initiative to which the Royal Victoria, in respect of a sum of £64 million, was not subjected. I ask the Minister to provide Downe with the modest sum required, over a three-year period, say, to improve a hospital complex that is 250 years old.

Mr. Moss

The business case for Downe hospital has been passed by the management executive and is currently with the Department of Finance. We shall then move to testing for the private finance initiative. If no private finance is forthcoming, we will have to consider providing funds on the normal basis to progress the capital scheme at Downe hospital.

Mr. Dowd

Will the Minister confirm that the effective use of capital investment in the national health service in Northern Ireland remains a priority for his Department? If so, will he comment on the fact that when the new Waterside hospital at Gransna park was opened only four years ago by his predecessor, the right hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley), who is now Minister of State, Foreign Office, it was described as the jewel in the crown of the Western health board, but it is now to close, along with Strabane hospital in Roe valley in Limavady, as 173 NHS care-for-the-elderly beds are replaced by 65 private nursing home beds? Will the Minister give an assurance that no future expenditure of precious NHS capital resources will be wasted in a few short years, as they have been at Waterside?

Mr. Moss

The total sum available over the next five years for capital development of hospitals in Northern Ireland comes to £240 million, which is £40 million each and every year. We are considering the private finance initiative for the hospitals that are not in the programme. As I have said, it is a full and comprehensive programme. We are out for consultation on the closures at Strabane. We shall be making our decisions when we have the benefits that will derive from the consultation process.

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