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Sexual Health and Family Planning

Volume 604: debated on Wednesday 20 January 2016

7. What recent discussions she has had with the Northern Ireland Executive on the adequacy of women’s access to sexual health and family planning services. (903081)

Northern Ireland Office Ministers have had no discussions with the Northern Ireland Executive on the adequacy of women’s access to sexual health and family planning services. However, Department of Health officials discuss sexual health matters with their counterparts in the Northern Ireland Departments as appropriate. Sexual health advice and services in Northern Ireland is a devolved matter.

The Minister will be aware that women in Northern Ireland can, and do, travel to England for abortions on the NHS. However, they cannot access NHS abortions; they have to pay to go privately. Does he agree that this is an inequality issue between women in Northern Ireland and women who live in, say, England?

The hon. Lady points out an interesting anomaly, and in advance of today I have asked my officials to provide clarity. I do know that there is a court case pending—or before the courts—in Northern Ireland on that very issue. It is important that we get to the bottom of the differences between living in one part of the UK and another and what NHS services are available.

In the 11 years since 2004 Northern Ireland has seen a 47% increase in new cases of HIV while on the mainland it has fallen by 20%. The same situation applies to other sexually transmitted diseases. What discussions has the Minister had—or what discussions will he have—with Health Ministers here on the mainland and in Northern Ireland to ensure that there is an overall regional strategy to address this?

I am very happy to have discussions with UK Ministers on that subject and certainly will write to my counterpart in the Executive to make sure that both we and the Executive are doing our fair share to make sure that we prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.