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Rural Hospitals: Public Transport

Volume 653: debated on Wednesday 30 January 2019

7. If she will hold discussions with the Northern Ireland civil service on the provision in Northern Ireland of public transport servicing rural hospitals. (908810)

As I am sure my right hon. Friend is aware, public transport in Northern Ireland is a devolved issue. The Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Act 2018 allows Northern Ireland Departments to continue to deliver public services in the absence of a functioning Executive. There are ongoing discussions on all these issues, including services to hospitals.

The brain injury charity Headway recently supported a lorry driver who had to pay £370 in hospital car parking charges to visit his comatose son in the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast. Will my hon. Friend work with the Secretary of State to scrap hospital car parking charges once and for all?

My right hon. Friend is pursuing one of the energetic and effective campaigns that have become his signature in Parliament. I believe that he is also pursuing the issue at Welsh and Scottish questions. I am sure that many of us have a great deal of sympathy with the case he described, but changing the policy in Northern Ireland to deal with it is best done by a functioning Executive at Stormont. I hope that he will agree that that is the clearest possible illustration of why people in Northern Ireland need the Executive to reform as soon as possible.

Community transport gives rural dwellers access to hospital care, but in the past four years it has been reduced by 40%. What measures will the Minister put in place to ensure that that is addressed in the new budget?

The difficulty that everybody faces at the moment is that all budgetary allocations have to be done on a business-as-usual basis. To make more fundamental changes and reforms—to modernise anything in any devolved area—requires the Stormont Executive to be sitting. I share the hon. Gentleman’s desire for change, but the answer, I am afraid, is that we have to get Stormont working.