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Department Of Health And Social Security

Volume 205: debated on Monday 16 March 1992

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To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will list the achievements since 1979 of the Department of Health and Social Security for Northern Ireland.

Since 1978–79, expenditure on health and personal social services in Northern Ireland has increased by 31 per cent. after allowing for general inflation. Cost improvement programmes have also generated savings of nearly £ 70 million for investment in services to patients and clients.Over the same period, levels of activity have increased by 33 per cent. Since 1981 the number of hospital in-patients has risen by 10 per cent. from 249,198 to 272,986; the number of day cases has increased fivefold, from 9,853 to 49,724; the number of operations has risen by 20 per cent.; and the number of out-patient attendances has risen by 17 per cent. from 1·7 million to 2 million.There have also been substantial increases in the numbers of professional staff: there are now 10 per cent. more dentists; 17 per cent. more hospital doctors; 26 per cent. more general practitioners; 9 per cent. more nurses and midwives; and 99 per cent. more qualified social workers. Particular emphasis has been placed on the training and development of professional staff. The training budget currently stands at over £ 14 million a year.Since 1979, perinatal and infant mortality rates in Northern Ireland have been reduced from 16.6 and 14.8 to 7.6 and 7.5 respectively. The latest available rates, for 1990, are, for the first time, the lowest in the United Kingdom.Through the emphasis on developing community services, there have been reductions of 34 and 28 per cent. respectively in the number of patients in psychiatric and mental handicap hospitals.The charter for patients and clients published on 10 March 1992 places a particular emphasis on quality and sets new, improved standards for the delivery of care and treatment.The social security benefits system has been maintained and reformed on the same basis as in the rest of the United Kingdom. The cash value of pensions and other long-term benefits have been secured in real terms.In July 1991 a Social Security Agency was established as part of the next steps initiative. The agency has attracted around 850 jobs to Northern Ireland providing services to the benefit network in Great Britain. Investment in computer technology has enhanced the efficiency of the services provided.Adoption law and practice were brought broadly into line with the rest of the United Kingdom.A major reform of gambling and club registration laws has been undertaken.Since 1979 aid to the voluntary sector has been increased by 69 per cent. in real terms.