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Health Budget

Volume 301: debated on Wednesday 26 November 1997

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If she will make a statement on the projected growth in real terms in the health budget for Northern Ireland between 1997–98 and 1998–99. [16237]

It is not possible to anticipate the 1998–99 final allocations announcement which will be made to the Northern Ireland Grand Committee in early December, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the extra £31 million, announced in the July Budget, will be added to the health spending totals for 1998–99 set by the previous Government.

Given that, during the whole of the last Parliament, the House was told by hon. Members on both sides of the House about the money needed for the health service in Northern Ireland—for capital building and general services and to reduce waiting lists—and given that health inflation is about 2 per cent. above real inflation, will the Minister either give an undertaking today or use his best endeavours to ensure that the money going to the health service in Northern Ireland is at least 2 per cent. in real terms above inflation and that additional money is put in to cut waiting lists, rather than allowing them to go on rising?

I hope that the hon. Gentleman knows that we are committed to a comprehensive spending review so that we can impose the Labour Government's priorities. We have already started that in terms of the reallocation of money in the current year, and we hope to make a further announcement shortly. I ask the hon. Gentleman to be patient until the Northern Ireland Grand Committee sitting, when all will be revealed to him.

Will the Minister confirm that the sums available to him will be sufficient to complete, equip and open the new Causeway hospital at Coleraine, and will it be equipped to provide cancer services and paediatrics?

I regret that I could not hear all that the hon. Gentleman said. He will know that one of the first actions we took was to end the indecision about the Causeway hospital. I was delighted to meet the chair of the trust this morning and to hear that the project is going ahead well. I look forward to discussing health matters with him in the not-too-distant future.