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We accept the many advances in the administration of health techniques in almost every aspect. We also acknowledge the increase in demands on the Health Service; again, that is despite all the preventative measures that have been taken and despite people’s having been educated to look after their own health. Where there is demand, in our opinion, it is incumbent on Government to provide — as our own Health Minister has said repeatedly — a world-class Health Service. That cannot be achieved by reducing the number of nursing staff by over 700.
In preparation for the debate, I expect that all Members will have had the opportunity to read the comments of the Royal College of Nursing for Northern Ireland, which has been mentioned already. It has made many comments, among which is that nurses are at the front line in delivering care to patients and that the reduction of their number by 700 will have a disastrous effect on their professional ability to deliver the first-class service to which we all aspire.
The reduction of 700 nursing posts cannot be delivered by voluntary retirements or by what is called “natural wastage”. The consultation process was confused and fragmented. The RCN, as the authority for the nursing profession in Northern Ireland, must be listened to and worked with in order to ensure that bad decisions are avoided before it is too late.