§ Mrs. Iris Robinson
To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on neurosurgery services in Northern Ireland, with particular reference to the availability of elective surgery. 
§ Mr. Browne
Neurosurgery services in Northern Ireland are managed on a regional basis by the Royal Group of Hospitals Trust. Currently, the service is under significant pressure and limited elective neurosurgery is being carried out, the majority of cases being emergency and clinically urgent cases.
The pressures on the Regional Neurosurgery service have arisen mainly as a result of shortages in experienced nursing staff, which is not a phenomenon particular to Northern Ireland; there are similar problems with this service throughout the NHS. Considerable efforts are being made by the Royal Group of Hospitals to address the current problems. These include the provision of additional theatre lists, the recruitment of nurses to allow additional neurosurgical beds to be opened, and treatment provided outside Northern Ireland for a small number of suitable patients. Work is also ongoing at the Royal Group of Hospitals in conjunction with the Health and Social Services Boards to consider proposals to further improve the service.