To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will ensure that each hospital application for trust status is evaluated in a way which safeguards the relevant health board's obligation to deliver acute hospital services efficiently and effectively within its area of responsibility.
The health and social services boards are responsible for securing services that meet the needs of their populations and they will contract with a range of providers, including trusts, to obtain those services. In that context, trusts will be no different from other providers.
Does the Minister understand my fear that the Western and Southern health boards will find strategic planning for the delivery of acute hospital services virtually impossible if they lose direct influence over Altnagelvin and Craigavon hospitals, respectively? Will he bear in mind that it is crucial not to allow essential services to be endangered by sanctioning a go-it-alone approach by those two main hospitals?
I assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that in establishing trusts there is no opting out of the national health service. Health and social services boards in Northern Ireland will provide the full range of services that they provide at present, so any unit that is to be a provider of health care must provide for the people of the area. No board would want to contract with a provider of services unless a good range of services was provided. There would be a far better delivery of health care, especially in the Western board area, than there is at present. As the hon. Gentleman knows, no units in the Western board are currently planning to ask for trust status.
Bearing in mind the future of trust hospitals, will the Minister assure my constituents, who are deeply worried, that no decision has been taken by his noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State regarding the Omagh maternity unit? Will he assure me that the Minister will give most earnest consideration to the united appeal from every section of our community in Mid-Ulster on this vital matter?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that my noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State who is responsible for health and social services in Northern Ireland is considering carefully the issue to which the hon. Gentleman referred. The hon. Gentleman will know that my noble Friend has visited both Omagh and Fermanagh in recent weeks and hopes to reach a decision within the next two or three weeks.
Is the Minister aware that the Downe hospital in Downpatrick has applied for trust status? How does he explain that application in the context of the findings of the Down and Lisburn unit of management document that a new hospital should be built? Will he consider that in the context of the directive that the Eastern health board has received from the Department which would close three hospitals in the constituency of South Down? Is the Minister aware of the tremendous distress and worry that that is causing to the people of Northern Ireland, especially as the consultation period is a sham and the Minister at the Northern Ireland Office will not be able to answer to the House for that consultation?
While I answer for health in Northern Ireland in this House, my noble Friend will consider the application for trust status made by the unit to which the hon. Gentleman referred and those made by other units, but I know that he will do so only after full consultation. I know that my noble Friend will consider the application carefully and that consultation with the hon. Gentleman and all others in the community will be most welcome.