HC Deb 25 January 1996 vol 270 cc468-9
3. Rev. Martin Smyth

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what representations he has received from health and social services boards and health and social services trusts on the financial proposals for next year and the impact on services. [9628]

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

Boards, trusts and agencies were asked for their views. These have now been received and I am considering them carefully. I shall also be meeting board and trust chairmen in the next two weeks. I hope to make an announcement as soon as possible after that time.

Rev. Martin Smyth

I thank the Minister for that response. Does he accept that a 3 per cent. up-front saving would have an impact on health provision in the Province, especially coming after years of taking the fat out of the system? Does the Minister acknowledge that it may lead to increases in waiting lists, especially as elective surgery may be targeted?

Mr. Moss

The 3 per cent. efficiency saving that we are asking the boards to consider this year is similar to the percentage amount that they have been saving in previous years, and I have no reason at this stage to doubt that they can do so again. However, until I have read their submissions I cannot determine whether any cuts in services will occur.

Mr. Ian Bruce

Is Northern Ireland getting its fair share of health resources from the central Exchequer to look after health services? Has my hon. Friend had a chance to compare the amount of money from the central Exchequer given to health services in Northern Ireland with the amount given in the south, and to discover whether there is a flow of people from the south trying to take advantage of any difference?

Mr. Moss

I have no comment to make on comparisons with the Republic of Ireland. I believe that in the past decade people in Northern Ireland have enjoyed a greater than average per capita spend on health. I am delighted to report to the House that, despite a reasonably tight public expenditure round, the total resources to be spent on health in the coming year will increase in real terms compared with last year.

Dr. Hendron

The Secretary of State and the Minister will be aware of the McKenna report on the rationalisation of services between the Royal Group of Hospitals and Dental Hospitals trust and the Belfast City hospital trust, and they will know that the report contains a proposal to close the Royal Maternity hospital. Is the Minister aware that there is great anger among my constituents—both Catholic and Protestant people of west and north Belfast—that such a proposal is being made, bearing in mind that the Royal Maternity hospital contains a neo-natal unit which serves not only Belfast, but the whole north of Ireland?

Mr. Moss

I am well aware of the contentious nature of the proposals in Dr. McKenna's report, but that is the third tranche of proposals. Most of the proposals in the other two reports have been agreed internally by consultants. The whole report is out to consultation and no decisions have been taken. It is important for the hon. Gentleman to refer to the truth of the matter, which is that two maternity units are to amalgamate—we are not closing one.

Mr. Dowd

Is the Minister aware that the current position in acute care in Northern Ireland is already intolerable and that he has succeeded in uniting all shades of political opinion against the Government's stewardship? Does he agree with the recent statement of the chairman of the British Medical Association's Northern Ireland council that the Government have withdrawn beds to such an extent that we've reached a critical point"? Does that not demonstrate beyond doubt that the crisis created by the bed shortages is every bit as serious in Northern Ireland as in the rest of the national health service?

Mr. Moss

I do not agree with the statement by the BMA spokesperson and I do not believe that there is a crisis in acute bed provision in Northern Ireland. If there are shortages in individual hospitals, I shall ask for an immediate report on them.