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Accident and Emergency Doctors

Volume 573: debated on Wednesday 15 January 2014

8. If she will hold discussions with the responsible Minister in the Northern Ireland Executive on the number of middle-grade accident and emergency doctors in Northern Ireland; and if she will make a statement. (901925)

First, may I say how much I appreciated the hon. Lady’s contribution to the meeting we had yesterday with the disabled police officers in Northern Ireland, to whom we owe a great deal?

I understand the hon. Lady’s concerns about the issues she raises but these are entirely devolved. [Interruption.] The commissioning and provision of medical services in Northern Ireland are matters for the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety in Northern Ireland and the Health and Social Care Board. [Interruption.]

Order. There is far too much discordant noise in the Chamber. The question must be heard and the Minister’s answers must be heard.

I thank the Minister for his answer, but he and the Secretary of State need to be more proactive on this matter because the policy that dictated the lack of A and E doctors emerges from Whitehall and London. Will he and the Secretary of State co-host with the responsible Minister in Northern Ireland a summit to address the shortage in A and E doctors?

Well, we will certainly ensure that we have discussions with the responsible Minister in Northern Ireland. We have had to take some very difficult decisions since 2010, but there are now more than 20% more A and E consultants in England than there were in 2010. We need to go further, but it does take six years to train a doctor and I think all Members, even those on the other side, will have spotted that we were not in power six years ago.

The Minister will be aware that Northern Ireland hospitals have been well served over the years by doctors and nurses from India, Pakistan and Malaysia, but visa restrictions have made it very difficult to get doctors in. Will he speak to his Government colleagues to see whether these restrictions can be removed?

I am very happy to take that up on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland. I was not aware of that particular problem because it has not been raised with me, but I congratulate the staff in Northern Ireland hospitals, who have had such a great reputation, particularly those at the Royal Victoria hospital which I remember well from when I used to visit it.