To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if, in view of the recent announcements on cash limits, he will take steps to ensure that the residents of South Down served by the Down group of hospitals will not be deprived of any of the minimum medical facilities which are at present available to them.
The Eastern health and social services board has recently issued a detailed consultative document on options for changes to the pattern of services in its area, including South Down. Since the board itself has not yet reached any conclusions, it would not be right for me to comment at this stage.
Is the Minister aware of the statement in the House yesterday by the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, about the biggest ever capital investment programme in the National Health Service for Scotland? Will he compare that with the draconian cuts and severe budget restrictions imposed on national health in Northern Ireland? In those circumstances, will he reconsider his Budget proposals for 1988–89 for NHS provision in Northern Ireland?
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's concern on this question of the Down services. This is the second time that we have been able to discuss the matter today. I have told him that I will consider most carefully any proposals from the board. I must point out that, as he is well aware, the level of health provision in Northern Ireland is second to none in the whole of the United Kingdom.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the serious concern in Northern Ireland about the way that he is handling hospitals? Is he also aware that if he continues on this line hospitalisation will be very difficult? It is not one section but the entire community that is suffering. I have taken an interest in the case that is before the House. It is not good enough for the Minister to tell us that it is a matter for the board. When he takes money away from the board, how can it make any other decision?
Rather than damaging the Health Service in Northern Ireland, the hon. Gentleman should accept that the level of provision of health care is higher in Northern Ireland than elsewhere in the United Kingdom, as it ought to be. While I accept that it creates problems for the Health Service, the provision of 5·2 per cent. additional funds this year is the absolute maximum that can be afforded because of the pressures of the law and order budget and unemployment.
In considering any changes in hospital provision within the Eastern board's area, will the Minister always bear in mind that the most rapidly increasing population is in the Bangor-Newtownards part of the area?
I am sure that the Eastern health board will take that into account when it considers the options.