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Brain Surgery

Volume 406: debated on Wednesday 11 June 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what action he will take to reduce the waiting lists for brain surgery in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement. [116382]

Pressures on the neurosurgery service have arisen mainly as a result of a need for more theatre time, and shortages in experienced nursing staff. This is not a problem unique to Northern Ireland—there are similar problems with this service throughout the NHS.The Royal Group of Hospitals, in liaison with the four Boards, has been working hard to improve the situation, both in the short-term, and with regard to the longer-term development of the service.

A task force was established by the Trust to lead the effort in addressing the problems faced by the service;
Extra theatre lists have been introduced;
A twin-track approach to enhance the recruitment and retention of nurses has been implemented to restore nursing levels and enable more beds to be opened. This has involved:
the appointment of a 'clinical educator' to enhance training opportunities and to support and increase the number of nurses in training; and
the recruitment of additional nurses, allowing the phased opening of beds from June 2003, with all beds re-opening by January 2004.
A clinical careers framework for nurses has also been launched to improve opportunities for personal development and career pathways;
In addition, treatment has been provided for some suitable patients in units outside Northern Ireland.

These measures should make a significant contribution to addressing the problems in this service. I have asked my Department, in liaison with the Boards and the Trust, to keep me apprised of progress.