§ Mr. Beggs
To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what progress has been made on the recommendations by Professor Donaldson's Medical Review Panel on(a) the development of a Province-wide comprehensive strategic plan for maternity services and (b) the problem of smaller obstetric units without 24-hour on-site paediatric cover. 
§ Mr. Worthington
When I announced my response, on 13 November 1997, to the Independent Medical Review Panel's report on maternity services in Central Belfast, I commented specifically on the Panel's recommendation for a comprehensive strategic plan for maternity services in Northern Ireland. In doing so I made it clear that I would not be taking any specific action in this regard pending the final outcome of the reviews of acute services including obstetric care provision, in the Northern, Southern and Western Board areas. Such a review has already taken place, in 1993, in the Eastern Board area and since then obstetric services have ceased at Ards Hospital and, on present plans, will cease in the Downe also in the near future.
I am aware that there are a number of smaller obstetric units in Northern Ireland without 24 hour on-site paediatric cover and some of these are under scrutiny in the review process. Meantime mothers-to-be are advised of the facilities, or lack of facilities, including paediatric cover at a particular unit by, among others, their GP, Obstetrician, Midwife or the HSS Trust concerned. Moreover, during the course of their ante-natal care, expectant mothers at risk of complications are identified and assessed and, if appropriate, advised to have their baby delivered in an obstetric unit with the necessary back-up facilities.
Finally, it is important to remember that mothers-to-be have the right to choose where they wish to have their baby born and some, albeit a small number at present, opt for home delivery.