asked the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety whether she intends to implement the recommendations of the Northern Health and Social Services Board’s ‘The Way Forward’ report, which proposes the building of a new area hospital to provide acute services for the south-west of Northern Ireland.
Le do chead, a Cheann Comhairle, freagróchaidh mé ceisteanna a haon, a cúig, a hocht, a sé déag agus a seacht déag i gcuideachta a chéile, ós rud é go dtagraíonn siad, ar dhóigh, do caidé mar a sholrófar géarsheirbhísí otharlainne anseo feasta. Tá an tsaincheist seo ar cheann de na príomhthosachtaí atá agam faoi láthair. Tá mé ag machnamh ar conas is féidir ár seirbhísí otharlainne a fhorbairt ar dhóigh a chinnteoidh cúram otharlainne ardchaighdeáin a bhéas inaimsithe acu sin uilig atá ina ngá. Is mian liom a rá gur maith a thuigim chomh tábhachtach agus atá seirbhísí otharlainne ag na pobail áitiúla. Mar sin, sula ndéanfar athrú ar bith, ba mhian liom a chinntiú go mbeidh na socruithe faoi thodhchaí gach otharlann bunaithe ar an eolas is iomláine is féidir a fháil.
With your permission, Mr Speaker, I shall take questions 1, 5, 8, 16 and 17 together as they all relate to how acute hospital services should be provided in the future. This is one of my key priorities, and I am currently considering how our hospital services can be developed in a way that ensures accessible, high-quality hospital care for all who need it.
I am very much aware of how important hospital services are to local communities, so before any changes are made I shall want to ensure that decisions about the future of individual hospitals are based on the fullest possible information.
In my constituency of Strangford, and especially in Ards, we were promised time after time that our acute hospitals would not be removed until there was sufficient funding in one of the nearby "golden six" hospitals, one of which is the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald. How does the Minister account for the total lack of investment at the Ulster, given that the Ards and Bangor Hospitals have long since closed, leaving our constituents greatly inconvenienced? Can the Minister provide the House with details of the investment that has been put into the "golden six" hospitals, which includes the Ulster?
I am sorry, but I cannot take points of order during questions to Ministers, the reason being that to do so would shorten even further the time that is available. [Interruption]
Order. I entirely understand the issue to which the Member is adverting, but I cannot deal with it at this time. It is a matter to which I shall have to return. I cannot take points of order during Question Time because the times are tightly bounded. I think I know the issue to which the Member adverts, and I shall consider it.
Ní féidir liom an t-eolas a d’iarr an Teachta Tionóil faoi cá mhéad airgid go beacht a chaithfear le hoispidéil, ní féidir liom sin a thabhairt dó inniu. An méid is féidir liom a rá is é gur thug mé cuairt ar na mallaibh ar oispidéal i mBeannchar agus go bhfuil mé lánchinnte go bhfuiltear ag déanamh gach rud is féidir a dhéanamh san oispidéal sin ar son na n-oibrithe agus ar son na n-othar. Tá an Roinn s’agam féin ag obair i gcomhar le Bord Sláinte an Oirthir agus leis na hiontabhais éagsúla le cinntiú go bhfuiltear ag déanamh gach rud is féidir a dhéanamh le seirbhísí a choinneáil sna hoispidéil. Déanfar machnamh ar gach ceist de réir mar thig sí chun tosaigh.
I cannot provide the Member with the precise figures for which he has asked. What I can say is that the Department is working with the board and the trusts to ensure the continuance of the best services possible in all of the hospitals in the area and to deal with all of the questions which arise from that.
I recently visited a hospital in Bangor, and I can assure the Member that I was very pleased with the work being done. I had discussions with staff, local representatives and patients. The Department is mindful of the question which the Member referred to and, as a Member and a Minister, I am well aware of the issue.
There are proposals for the future development of the Ulster Hospital and significant capital investment will be required in due course. At this time I can give no further details.
There is clearly going to be some difficulty. The Minister asked that five questions be taken together, and that was perfectly reasonable. Under normal procedures I call for supplementary questions from those Members who had questions which were taken together. However, if the Minister intends to give extensive replies, and to give them in two languages, we will barely get through the first of them — [Interruption]
Order. I must request that supplementary questions and the responses be as concise as possible in order to keep transgression to a minimum.
I am afraid that I cannot take a point of order at this juncture. I will take it at the end.
I note that Mr Francie Molloy, who was to ask a supplementary question, is not here.
I note what the Minister has said about the review of acute services throughout Northern Ireland and would like to ask her to accept the gravity of the situation in Tyrone and Fermanagh. Will she tell the House when we are likely to have a decision on a new hospital for the south-west of Northern Ireland? This is not only a very important issue for people in Tyrone and Fermanagh, but also crucial for the medical staff there.
Mar a dúirt mé cheana féin, tá mé ag iarraidh an Bealach chun Tosaigh a chur fá bhráid an phobail faoi láthair. Tá mé ag dul i dteangmháil le daoine éagsúla, agus déanfaidh mé machnamh ar an tsaincheist. Tá mé ag iarraidh a chinntiú go mbeidh an pictiúr is iomláine agam is féidir a fháil. Mar sin de, ní féidir liom a rá go díreach cé mhéad ama a rachfas thart sula mbeidh cinneadh ann faoi aon ghné amháin den cheist seo.
As I said in my first answer, I am trying to ensure that decisions made about the future of individual hospitals are based on the fullest possible information, and, because this is part of a wider context and covers more than one possibility, I am not in a position at the moment to say exactly when any decision will be reached. Obviously, getting the fullest possible information will take time.
However, I assure the Member that this is one of the priorities I am dealing with. The Member will be aware that a number of decisions were left pending before the establishment of the Executive. I hope to be in a position to give a better and clearer view of the way forward very soon.
It is somewhat difficult to ask a supplementary question. The grouping of the questions today did not help in this respect. I must abandon the question originally asked, which has not been answered by the Minister. However, in addressing the issue of acute services generally I should like to ask the Minister, given the overcentralisation of maternity services, whether she accepts her Department’s current policy, which is based on the August 1991 paper?
The Health Select Committee of the House of Commons said that it could not agree with the recommendations of that paper and that the proposal was regressive and should not be proceeded with. It then asked the Department of Health to withdraw the policy, on which the Department is now acting.
Does the Minister concur with the original policy or will she withdraw it and reassess the over-centralisation of maternity services? In other words, are the Royal Colleges going to dictate public health policy here, or are people’s needs going to be paramount?
Ó thaobh na seirbhísí seo agus ó thaobh na seirbhísí ospidéil eile de, ba mhaith liom a chur ina luí ar gach aon duine inniu nach bhfuil mé ag glacadh le nó ag diúltú do aon pholasaí a ghlac duine ar bith de na hAirí Sláinte a tháinig romham. Tá mé ag déanamh machnaimh ar an Bhealach chun Tosaigh, agus labhróidh mé le oiread daoine agus is féidir agus déanfaidh mé cinnte go mbeidh aon socrú fá thodhchaí seirbhís ar bith bunaithe ar an eolas is iomláine is féidir a fháil.
I am neither taking as read nor rejecting out of hand the proposals of previous Administrations and Ministers. As I have taken on board questions on the provision of hospitals and other services, I have made the best possible decision in each case, based on the fullest possible information. As I have said, I want to ensure that local people and others have the chance to meet me and put forward their views on a number of different matters.
I am sorry that the Member feels that my previous answer was not full. However, I am reviewing acute hospital policy and looking at the best way forward. I shall try to ensure that decisions are based, as I have said, on the fullest possible information, and I shall not restrict this review to previous years.