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Hospital Waiting Lists

Volume 301: debated on Wednesday 26 November 1997

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If she will make a statement on the pattern of hospital waiting in Northern Ireland, indicating the three trusts and specialties where the lists are greatest. [16236]

The largest in-patient waiting lists at 30 September 1997 were at the Royal Group of Hospitals and Dental Hospitals health and social services trust, the Belfast City Hospital health and social services trust and the Ulster, North Down and Ards Hospitals health and social services trust. By specialty, the largest waiting lists were in general surgery, ear, nose and throat and trauma and orthopaedics.

I appreciate that answer. Does the Minister accept that the Ards and Ulster hospitals have not been properly funded over the years? Can he give an assurance that the boards will complete contracts much earlier, so that those dealing with specialties can plan their operational procedures better?

The Minister—I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon; I mean, the minister of religion has given an example of the collapse of the internal market. When we came to office, it seemed impossible for the trusts and boards to come to an agreement. We insisted that they did so as soon as possible. The major cause of the problem this year has been the budget cuts imposed by the previous Government, which have caused waiting lists to soar after a period of decline. We take this matter extremely seriously. We have identified an extra £12 million for this year's budget. I hope to be able to identify more money shortly. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that an extra £31 million would go into the health service budget from April next year.

I thank the Minister for his recent. well-received visit to the Downe hospital in Downpatrick. When he was there, he no doubt saw that an attack is being made on the waiting list by a high-quality, cost-effective team in conditions that are 200 years old. That trust has gone through the private finance initiative. Will he put completion of the third phase of a modest hospital on the public capital programme list?

I very much appreciated my visit to Downe hospital as part of the consultations that I have had in that area recently. We were disturbed and disappointed by the collapse of the private finance initiative. I am awaiting the economic analysis and appraisal, so that I can decide on the priority to be given to the Downe hospital.

Following the Minister's recent decision to amalgamate the Royal maternity and the Jubilee maternity at the Royal site, will he confirm that sick babies will continue to be transported by ambulance to the Royal hospital for sick children? Will he confirm that the construction of the proposed Royal maternity unit will be put off for many years? Does he agree that the closure of the Jubilee unit at the City hospital, without consultation, is without precedent?

To deal with the last point first, this morning I received a letter from the affected parties in the case, giving me their undertaking that they would work together to make a success of the new proposals. We inherited a problem from the hon. Gentleman, who is a former Northern Ireland Minister. The most important issue was the clinically best way to deal with small, vulnerable babies and their mothers. We looked at the matter and we brought in independent outside analysts. The clear decision we received was that we should go ahead with our proposals, which we have done. That has been generally welcomed in Northern Ireland.

In addition to the Minister's existing proposals, when will he introduce a comprehensive health promotion strategy?

On 10 December, we shall make an announcement on priorities in the health service in Northern Ireland so that we can remedy defects in the illness patterns not only through the health service, but by involving every Department and agency in Northern Ireland. We shall announce our proposals then.