asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he last met the chairman of the Eastern health board to discuss accident and emergency services in Belfast.
I have frequent meetings, both formal and informal, with the chairmen of all four health and social services boards to discuss the range of services for which they are responsible. I met the Eastern board chairman on 2 March and 9 March and expect to meet him again at his board's forthcoming accountability review.
Did the most recent meeting that the Minister had with the chairman of the health board reflect the deep concern that is felt in the Lisburn area over the potential closure of the Lissue hospital, which is a specialist hospital serving the young mentally handicapped, and the serious possible closure of the Mater hospital casualty unit, which serves north Belfast, which is being considered by the board? Were that closure to go ahead, it would force people to travel up to 30 milies to Ballymena or to the city hospital and, therefore, potentially across sectarian lines where conflict may exist. Why are the Minister and the Secretary of State under-funding the Health Service in Belfast and Northern Ireland to such an extent that closures of such seriousness as this have to be considered?
Lissue hospital has had a very long life. The facilities that it offers are not what we would wish to offer to children in such conditions. The reason for the closure is to ensure that the patients are better cared for elsewhere. Northern Ireland has a much higher rate of attendance at accident and emergency units than anywhere else in the United Kingdom: 441 per 1,000 in Northern Ireland, compared with only 293 per 1,000 in England and 251 per 1,000 in Scotland. Less than 1 per cent. of the accident and emergency attendances are a, result of terrorism, which is one of the areas of concern that have arisen over the closure of accident and emergency units. We are asking the boards to consult most fully with everybody involved to ensure that any proposals that come forward are properly discussed and thought through, and any money that we may save will, of course, be put back into the Health Service.
Is my hon. Friend aware that many of us who have recently received his package of information about Belfast, both in terms of the good news and the potentially exciting news in that great city, are very pleased to have received it and hope that he will continue to argue the case both on this side of the water and in the rest of Europe and the world so that Belfast may continue to go from strength to strength?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I believe that in the Health Service we have as good, if not better, facilities in Belfast than anywhere else in the United Kingdom. The city as a whole has suffered in the past two days but, that aside, the city is undergoing a regeneration, the likes of which it has not seen for a century or more, supported by the public and private sectors to a great degree. The determination of the people of Belfast to live through the problems that they are currently facing is an example to us all.