Health and Personal Social Services

Oral Answers to Questions — Northern Ireland – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 28th January 1988.

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Photo of Mr John McWilliam Mr John McWilliam , Blaydon 12:00 am, 28th January 1988

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he intends to increase funding for the purposes of improving health and the personal social services in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Mr Richard Needham Mr Richard Needham , North Wiltshire

The public expenditure White Paper published last week provided details of the planned increase in expenditure on the health and personal social services in Northern Ireland over the next three financial years. In 1988–89 expenditure will rise to £845 million in total.

Photo of Mr John McWilliam Mr John McWilliam , Blaydon

Does the Minister agree that his Department's recent announcement about the level of health expenditure in Northern Ireland has been widely condemned by those concerned with health care in the Province? Does he accept the calculation of the Province's health boards, which show that they are facing a £20 million shortfall in health expenditure for next year? Will he accept that the Department's announcement completely fails to meet the crisis in health care in Northern Ireland?

Photo of Mr Richard Needham Mr Richard Needham , North Wiltshire

No, Sir, I will not accept that. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is aware that in Northern Ireland we spend 23 per cent, more per year on the Health Service than we do in other regions of the United Kingdom. I understand the difficulties with regard to expenditure by the health boards this year, but I should point out that our record on health expenditure in Northern Ireland is second to none. As a percentage of GDP we spend 12·4 per cent., which is almost twice as much as West Germany.

Mr. Kiifedder:

Despite what the Minister has just said, it has been reported that health authorities throughout Northern Ireland have warned him that a crisis will develop in the Health Service unless more money is made available. Will he reconsider this matter and provide sufficient money? If not, hospital wards will have to close and the people of Northern Ireland will suffer further.

Photo of Mr Richard Needham Mr Richard Needham , North Wiltshire

I understand that there are problems with the health boards this year, but I must refer to the high levels of expenditure in the Province. There will be a 5·3 per cent, increase in expenditure this year. Many other countries in Europe are having to cut back on health expenditure.

Photo of Martin Smyth Martin Smyth , Belfast South

I acknowledge the amount of expenditure on health care, but does the Minister recognise the greater need of Northern Ireland and that, for cardiac surgery and ophthalmology, there are three times as many people on the waiting list as there were in 1982? A slight injection of funds would be helpful. Will he acknowledge that in the Eastern Health and Social Services Board there will be a shortfall of £8 million and that, as a result, with regard to cardiac care, people will be dying?

Photo of Mr Richard Needham Mr Richard Needham , North Wiltshire

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the increased level of need in Northern Ireland, which is why we spend 23 per cent. more. As to the particulars that the hon. Gentleman referred to, I shall have an opportunity to discuss with the chairman and general manager of the Eastern Health and Social Services Board its programme for next year, which is a matter for them.

Photo of Mr John Farr Mr John Farr , Harborough

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, however generous we would like the British taxpayer to be to deserving cases in Northern Ireland, we must continually bear in mind that its Health Service is almost completely funded by mainland money? Such assistance should not be too disproportionate to other similar and parallel benefits in other parts of the United Kingdom.

Photo of Mr Richard Needham Mr Richard Needham , North Wiltshire

The Government accept that there is an additional need for health care in Northern Ireland, which is why we provide funds for it and will continue to do so at a high level.

Photo of Dr Jim Marshall Dr Jim Marshall , Leicester South

Is the Minister aware that he sounds very much like the Prime Minister in his recitation of statistics? Does he realise that his position is equally as incongruous as that of the Prime Minister, in that the statistics that he relates bear little relation to the needs and requirements of the Health Service and social services in the Province? Since the Treasury is awash with money, will he join us in urging the Chancellor of the Exchequer to increase funding for the Health Service in the Province?

Photo of Mr Richard Needham Mr Richard Needham , North Wiltshire

That is the first time that I have ever been compared to the Prime Minister, and I am grateful to the hon. Member. I am sure he is aware that the Treasury in Northern Ireland is not awash with money. We have had a very difficult time this year and have made all the money that we can available to the Health Service. We have a first-rate Health Service in Northern Ireland and will do everything that we can to maintain it.