Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

Northern Ireland Assembly

Tuesday 24 April 2001 (continued)

Mr M McGuinness:

The document proposes an extension to the teacher's salary protection factor so that more schools are included; that will alleviate the problem for schools that are most affected. Views have been invited on all of these matters and on whether teachers' salaries should remain with the LMS. This is an opportunity for people to make an impact on the proposals that have been made, and it is vital that people contribute in a positive way. The opportunity for that is there.

Tommy Gallagher asked what is meant by similar funding for similar schools when all schools are different.

The formula allocates funding for those factors that significantly increase the need for expenditure in schools. For example, the factors could be the number and age of pupils, the premises or educational and social needs. Similar schools would be those that share similar circumstances under these factors. Under the common formula such schools will receive similar funding.

Tommy Gallagher also raised the matter of the aggregated schools budget (ASB). Our current policy is to maximise the level of funding to the classroom. If the resources to be distributed by the common formula were to be derived from a simple summing of the current ASBs for the education and library boards, the grant-maintained integrated sector and the voluntary grammar sector, it would not achieve the key educational objective of maximising the delivery of resources to the classroom.

It would also be unfair to those education and library boards that have made the greatest efforts to increase delegation, as it would redistribute the additional funding they have made available across all boards. As a result, schools in those board areas that currently have high levels of delegation would lose funding, while those in board areas with lower levels of delegation would gain.

Therefore I intend to discuss with boards how to bring levels of delegation to a more consistently higher level. This will require a realignment of budgets within boards and may involve some hard decisions. If the level of funding in all boards were raised to the level of the highest funding board, the ASB would increase by around £15 million. This represents the high ASB option set out in the consultation document.

Under the high ASB option, 88% of all schools would gain - the nursery, primary, post-primary sectors, as well as school sectors of all management types. The high ASB option will benefit all parts of the education system and will deliver substantially more resources to the classroom. I will be working with the boards and our other education partners towards this outcome.

Gerry McHugh raised the issue of the condition of school buildings and energy costs. The data required to construct such an element in the premises factor is not available, although it may be provided by the schools estate database when it is operational. There is also the difficulty that the inclusion of such elements in the premises factor could actually serve as a disincentive to schools to maintain property or adopt energy efficient practices. However, we have sought the views of schools on this important issue, and we will consider it again when the schools estate database is fully operational.

Oliver Gibson, Eileen Bell, Billy Hutchinson and Sammy Wilson raised, in varying degrees, the whole issue of free school meals as a TSN indicator. There is extensive research, both local and international, which demonstrates a link between entitlement to free school meals and social disadvantage. The free-school-meals entitlement is a good measure of social disadvantage, and the research is readily available, easily updated and effectively avoids the postcode-related problems associated with population census indicators such as the Robson index.

Research has also clearly demonstrated that children from socially disadvantaged circumstances are more likely to lack motivation to learn; they exhibit behavioural and attendance problems, have low educational attainment, leave school early, and become unemployed. Schools incur additional costs in meeting the needs of those pupils through pastoral care programmes, liasing with external agencies, additional teacher support, and so on. Therefore I am satisfied that free school meals should continue to be used as an indicator of social disadvantage and that schools should receive an element of funding to reflect the incidence of such pupils.

The proposals in the document are to include educational indicators - Key Stage 2 results - alongside entitlement to free school meals in a TSN indicator. That will direct TSN resources more accurately to schools with pupils in need. In particular, the revised indicator will target more effectively schools with pupils who are not socially disadvantaged but are, nevertheless, performing below the expected level for their age. That will address a long-standing criticism of the current TSN arrangements in the LMS and will be widely welcomed.

Oliver Gibson talked about responses from the boards. I am happy to copy responses from the boards - the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools, the Governing Bodies Association, the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education, Comhairle na Gaelscolaíochta - to the Education Committee and also to education associations and unions. I am happy to provide analyses of responses.

Mrs Eileen Bell asked about the targeting social need proposals in the document. Those proposals will pick up pupils who do not currently attract specific funding, including pupils who are not socially disadvantaged but are low achievers. Such pupils will attract funding under the revised special educational needs proposals in the TSN factor.

Transitional funding arrangements will be an integral part of the formula. The Department of Education will ensure that boards are allocated sufficient funding to meet transitional funding needs. Mrs Bell also spoke about the need for training. The introduction of the common formula has no implications for the role of boards of governors, and no specific training is required. There are mechanisms involving the boards and the Department for the training of governors in financial management, which will continue.

Mrs Eileen Bell and Ms Monica McWilliams raised the issue of age-weighted pupil units (AWPU) and the need for a regular review. I can confirm that the AWPU factor - and other factors in the formula - will be subject to regular review.

Mr Billy Hutchinson mentioned vandalism. The cost of vandalism is normally met through additional funding from the boards' contingency funds. I share the Member's concerns at the cost of vandalism and agree that those resources could be put to good use elsewhere in schools. Mr Hutchinson also referred to sport. There is a proposal for specific funding for sport, and the schools themselves will decide how to spend the money. That will give all pupils the opportunity to benefit from access to the sports curriculum.

Several Members were concerned that the consultation coincided with the post-primary and curriculum reviews. The common formula will have to take account of any changes arising from those reviews. The fact that schools will be funded on a common basis should assist in the implementation of any further changes that may arise from those reviews, as changes will be required to just one common formula, rather than to seven formulae, as at present.

Ms Monica McWilliams and Mrs Joan Carson raised the issue of a review of education administration. That can be taken forward properly only in the context of a wider review of local administration, and we have all heard much about that recently. The Executive are dealing with that issue, and, no doubt, that review will have implications not just for education, but for many other Departments.

Monica McWilliams asked about the involvement of Coopers & Lybrand. It was part of a wider process of identifying and analysing the key issues, and we were able to get access to consultants with extensive experience of school funding in England, Scotland, Wales and beyond. That was more cost-effective than having the Department of Education undertake the research in-house. Ms McWilliams also spoke about the views of teachers, which, of course, should be taken into account. The views of teachers and boards of governors are absolutely critical, and they will be carefully considered. As I said, briefing conferences are being held in each board area to explain the proposals to principals and chairs of boards of governors. One took place today, and it was very successful. Those conferences will help teachers to understand the proposals and make their responses.

Ms McWilliams also raised the issue of private finance initiative schools. With regard to recurrent funding under the local management of schools formula, there is no difference between a PFI school and one provided under traditional arrangements. Each type of school will have to meet expenditure on running costs - the PFI schools by means of a unitary payment, and others through meeting the cost of individual items. Both must meet that cost from their LMS allocation.

Mr Sammy Wilson asked why the LMS issue was brought to the House in this matter. We considered that it was important to give Members an early opportunity to discuss such an important issue. Mr Wilson also asked why proposals were changed after a meeting with the Education Committee.

We were very anxious to meet with the Education Committee and to listen to its views. We were pleased to be able to take many of the views expressed by the Committee on board in the final consultation document.

4.00 pm

Billy Hutchinson and Sammy Wilson also raised the issue of the impact of all of that on the Belfast Education and Library Board if, for example, the aggregated schools budget were low, and we were dealing with the low model. I sometimes thought that Mr S Wilson was talking about that. My clear objective is to move towards the high ASB model, which is based on all boards moving to the highest level of funding. That highlights the need to increase the size of the ASB to ensure that as many schools and sectors as possible can win.

Sammy Wilson also raised a number of other issues about the Education Committee. He talked about giving more money to the maintained sector. Proposals are designed to meet educational need in all schools without fear or favour, regardless of the sector in which they may be located. The import of the proposals on the high or low ASB option is to move more resources into the controlled sector - around 2·3% - than into the maintained sector - 2·1%.

In terms of TSN changes, the change in the balance of funding between social deprivation and special education need (SEN) in the document, compared to the current position in the LMS formula, is to allocate more money under SEN and less under social deprivation. The proposals will, for the first time, direct funding to children performing below the expected level for their age and who are not disadvantaged, as well as those who are.

Ken Robinson mentioned the publications that were produced. The document was produced in Irish to meet the needs of Irish-medium schools. There are currently 10 grant-aided Irish-medium schools, nine of which are primary, one post-primary, and five Irish-medium units. There are currently no Ulster-Scots schools in the North, hence it was not considered necessary to produce the document in the Ulster-Scots language.

People should not be under any illusions about where I am coming from. I am only too willing, and I will be glad, if the demand is there, to give whatever possible support my Department can to people who are involved in Ulster-Scots and who wish to promote the language educationally. The document is also available in large print and on audio cassette on request. It can be accessed on the Department's Internet site.

Mr Ken Robinson also said that not enough is being spent on books. I secured £1·5 million last year for reading materials for primary schools. I secured £14·7 million last year and £20·4 million this year that went directly to schools for whatever they chose to spend it on, including books. Of course, we will continue to seek additional funding for schools. That has always been my objective.

Mr Dallat asked from where the £15 million is coming, and whether it will mean cutbacks in the boards. The document envisages a sum of up to £15 million being added to delegated budgets. Under current arrangements, boards are allowed to reflect their own policies and priorities in determining their various budgets. That has led to variations in the level of school funding between boards. Commonality in delegated funding will also require greater commonality among boards and other areas of school funding. The means by which that realignment is to be implemented and the implications for each board will be the subject of further discussions between my Department and the boards over the next few months. Hard decisions may have to be taken, but it is vital that priority be given to directing funds to the classroom.

Mrs Carson raised the issue of funding for preparatory departments. Those schools have always been funded at a lower rate. Admission to a preparatory department is based on the ability of parents to pay the fees. The lower rate of grant reflects that feature.

The Member also raised the issue of the exclusion of pupils in Irish-medium and special units from the pupil count in relation to the small schools factor. That serves to put more money into the small schools, because the lower the pupil count, the greater the amount received under the small schools factor.

Mr ONeill mentioned LMS. It is not intended that schools should run as a business, and the Assembly accepts that. The intention is that resources should be delegated to a lower level, to those with power to make local decisions. Research conducted by the University of Ulster in 1997 revealed that most school principals welcomed the freedom to determine their own priorities, and only a few wanted the LMS to be abolished. Mr ONeill also talked about the £15 million reduction, and we have dealt with that matter.

At present, 5% of the total schools' recurrent budget is top-sliced to target social need, and I intend to increase that amount. Moreover, it is important to understand that that 5% under the LMS formula is only one element among a wide range of TSN-related programmes supported by my Department. These include the school support programme; the group 1 schools initiative; the special educational needs code of practice; education outside school; support for travellers and children with English as an additional language; and the targeting of pre-school education expansion programme.

With school budgets under continued pressure, the additional £4 million that is being put into TSN - which represents a 10% increase - is significant. I am committed to allocating more resources to target social need if that is necessary, or if the Executive make additional resources available. I have not made a final decision about that or any of the other matters dealt with in the consultation document. I will listen carefully to any proposal on any of those matters.

In closing, a LeasCheann Comhairle, I commend the House on the quality of the debate. It demonstrates that locally elected politicians are capable of debating the issues that concern us in a rational and informed manner. The introduction of a common LMS funding formula for schools is about equity of funding, greater delegation of funding, and giving priority to the classroom. Above all, it is about helping to raise educational standards for all our children by ensuring that resources are directed where they are needed most - to the classroom. The proposals in the consultation document will achieve this.

I stress that I am willing to consider alternative suggestions or approaches. I encourage everyone to respond to the consultation document. This is a genuine consultation, and everyone's view will be carefully considered before final decisions are taken on a common funding formula. Go raibh maith agat.

Question put and agreed to.


That this Assembly notes the publication of the consultative document and the intention to introduce a common formula for funding schools.

Motion made:

That the Assembly do now adjourn - [Madam Deputy Speaker]

Provision of Medical and Health Facilities for the Mourne Area


Mr McGrady:

I appreciate the opportunity to address the issue of provision - or lack of provision - of an integrated medical and health facility in the Kilkeel and Mourne area.

The people of the Mournes have waited an unacceptably long time for the provision of a new integrated modern health facility to replace the old Mourne Hospital. That hospital was closed five years ago, in October 1996, by the then Minister of Health, Malcom Moss. Mr Moss stated that the hospital would be replaced by a

"comprehensive range of services"

and that the hospital would not close until such a package of measures was in place. A few months later the Southern Health Board, at one of its meetings, appointed - and I read from their minutes -

"a short life project ensure the smooth transition from the current service pattern to that which the board wishes to purchase."

That short-life team has now existed for five to six years.

So far, the services that were to be provided have been provided partially, in a scattered locality, and certainly not in a new integrated health facility as was envisaged. Those who followed the problem realised that procrastination had reigned on this issue in the Newry and Mourne Health & Social Services Trust, which presented various business cases to the Department of Health only to be told that further amendments would be required before the outline business case could be approved. That was in the context of the old Mourne Hospital's not being closed until all the new provisions were in place. So much for ministerial edicts. However, I hope to exclude the current Minister from such criticism.

(Madam Deputy Speaker [Ms Morrice] in the Chair)

The constituent parts of the business case for the integrated health facility in Kilkeel have also varied over the years. There is a long and difficult history to the provision of these facilities in a new-build, all-purpose facility. As far back as 1988, the old Mourne Hospital was threatened with closure. That was vociferously opposed by the local community, culminating in a very strong and representative campaign in the five-year period from 1991 to 1996. The ministerial death sentence was passed on 25 October 1996. That older committee did not survive that decision, not because of a lack of enthusiasm or commitment, but because certain other extraneous legal matters brought it to an abrupt and unfortunate end.

Since then, the people of the Mournes have been without access to a proper integrated medical facility. The ministerial statement of 25 October 1996, which is the base from which I start, included provision for £700,000 in additional funding for community services. However, I have found it extremely difficult to identify where that £700,000 additional funding was spent on community services.

The Health Minister at that time also gave a commitment that

"the board will continue discussions with the interested parties on potential for a new integrated primary health care centre in Kilkeel and will invite interested parties to develop and submit proposals for the provision of nursing and specialised services for the elderly and the mentally infirm".

The Minister, in the same letter, also stated that the trust

"can now proceed with the implementation of the package of services for the area without further delay".

That was five years ago.

The Southern Health and Social Services Board continues to have discussions with the trust and the trust with the GPs and with the Department, yet we still have no sense of the original intent being implemented - of the integrated care centre.

During the campaign for the provision of the centre, many meetings were held. There were meetings with the Newry and Mourne Health & Social Services Trust, the Southern Health and Social Services Board and various Ministers of Health and Social Services. In fact, I cannot but reflect on the number of meetings, letters, and delegations with various Ministers - Richard Needham, Jeremy Hanley, the late Baroness Denton, Malcolm Moss, Tony Worthington, John McFall and George Howarth. They are all possessors of part of this history without any real delivery. I am hoping that that is the end of the Ministers who will not deliver on this issue.

During that whole campaign the minimum requirement was that which was agreed by the Department, the board, the trust, Newry and Mourne District Council, the community representatives and the public elected representatives.

I will rehearse the details briefly, because I want to compare them with the position today. The integrated proposal included the following: a 28-bed in-patient hospital in Kilkeel on a new site; access to 26 private nursing beds; the provision of 20 statutory nursing beds, which, presumably, were to be at Slieve Roe House or thereabouts; the provision of 30 day-care places at the same venue or elsewhere; the retention of the casualty unit, which was to be combined with the treatment room in the new facility; the retention of the health centre with out-patient services and other services such as chiropody and speech therapy; and an enhanced physiotherapy unit with a brand new occupational therapy unit, including out-patient facilities. There was also a commitment to retain the ambulance station.

4.15 pm

All those services, apart from the last, were to be provided on a newly built integrated primary care facility. However, five years on, I do not see any sign of that happening. Where is the commitment, and where is the plan that was submitted by the trust? I know that it has submitted an outline business plan, and I am now aware of its contents. I want to measure the contents of that plan against the undertakings and agreements that were made about all those facilities. The proposals were also formally agreed with a delegation from Newry and Mourne District Council that I took to meet the Minister in February 1997.

I have wondered whether I should proceed with the Adjournment debate. Only last week, I convened a meeting with Kilkeel Community Association, Newry and Mourne Health and Social Services Trust and Newry and Mourne District Council to try to understand their positions. There have been so many changes to the proposals and in people's attitudes to them that I wanted to pin everything down carefully. Kilkeel Community Association recently made a valiant attempt to provide a neutral venue based on the same campus as the integrated primary care health clinic, which, in fact, could have been one of the anchor tenants.

The trust, the boards and the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety are going ahead with the business case, which, I hope, will deliver the primary necessities that I listed. I also hope that a site will be made available to the Kilkeel Community Association to provide a venue for community activities on that site or adjacent to it. I hope that the negotiations will be successful and that the funding for both aspects will be taken into account.

Newry and Mourne Health and Social Services Trust submitted another revised outline business case to the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety on 30 March 2001. I do not expect the Minister to comment on an outline business case that has been so recently submitted, but many other business cases were submitted before that. I would like to know the broad content of the outline business case and how it compares with the benchmarks that were laid down by the public representatives, the communities, the boards, the trust and the Department in October 1996.

The outline business plan is supported fully by the five general practitioners in the area. There was a difficulty in agreeing requirements with them, as these changed from time to time depending on whom one was talking to. The business plan also has the support of Mourne councillors.

The need for an integrated primary healthcare facility is crucially important to people in the Mourne area. That is especially the case when one considers that five years ago that community was promised such an accessible primary healthcare facility.

The community is the most important aspect. However, there is a huge influx of visitors to the Mourne area - up until now anyway. A quarter of a million people walk from peak to peak each year, if they are active. If they are not, they lie on the sunny beaches in south Down absorbing the "Costa del Sol" atmosphere of Ireland. They enjoy the highlands, woodlands, lakes and seaside. It is important for those facilities to be available if we are to have credibility as an area that takes care of its visitors.

The population of Newry and Mourne is projected to increase by 12%, which is the second highest population increase in Northern Ireland. That increase is forecast for the years 1998 to 2013. Although there are 15 years in which to achieve this, it is a very high population increase nonetheless. Those are not my figures; they are the official October 2000 statistics from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency. We have a very healthy population in the Mournes as far as creating a new generation is concerned. The matter of add-on facilities over and above those envisaged five or six years ago must also be addressed.

Those things can only be addressed by good partnership and if there is a good outcome from the negotiations between the trust, the board, the Department and the Minister. I hope that that will be done very quickly and very well. I have dozens of quotes from dozens of letters from dozens of Ministers as far back as August 1997. However, one quote from the management executive was that

"significant progress could be made in developing what will undoubtedly be a first-class facility to support the local primary care services".

We are at the negotiation stage once again, but I hope that in those negotiations the benchmarks laid down and agreed by all concerned some years ago will now be part of the outline business plan.

I do not know what is in the business plan. I hope that the Minister will tell us or make some reference to it today, because a decision is needed urgently. The people of the Mourne and Kilkeel area have, by this delay, earned priority for delivery of a primary healthcare facility because they have waited patiently for so long. It is a matter of great urgency, and for that reason the Minister and the Department should ensure that the capital funding required for the primary healthcare unit is made readily available. I hope that I will not hear that funding will be provided after a process of private financial inquiries. We all know that that is a dead end as far as hospital provision and care provision in Northern Ireland are concerned.

The people of Newry and Mourne have waited for a long time. They now have a business plan. I hope that the Minister will respond quickly and positively to it. I hope she will make the Department deliver the promises it gave to the people and make the money available to the trust and the board to enable those promises to be rapidly and fully undertaken.

I have no doubt that other Members, particularly those from the south Down area, will support that concept for the people there.

Mr Kennedy:

I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in this important debate and warmly congratulate and commend Mr McGrady for bringing it to the attention of the Assembly. Lest anyone question my right to participate, Members will be aware that I am a member of Newry and Mourne District Council and have an interest there. I also want to make representations on behalf of the Ulster Unionist Party. Ministerial business has, unfortunately, kept my party Colleague, Mr Nesbitt, from the House today. Nonetheless, he is mindful of the health needs in his constituency of South Down and in the Mourne area. I take a broader view of things in the Newry and Mourne council district.

The historical context has already been very well covered by Mr McGrady. Although Mourne Hospital was not in ideal shape, it at least provided local services to local people, and there was always an expectation that it would, at some stage, be upgraded. Based on the pledges and promises made by Ministers and others in control of health at that time, the expectation locally was that a new hospital or centre would be built to give proper and adequate healthcare. It is a matter of great regret that those promises were never kept and that no such hospital materialised.

I have considerable knowledge of the area. Newry and Mourne is strange in some ways. Once you go through the mountains, you go into new territory - politically, socially and, perhaps, in other ways too. It is largely rural, and it is far-flung, which is another important reason for having a hospital of some kind there. Considerable distances are involved, and the community is spread throughout small towns, hamlets and little villages in the coastal area. Minor roads are not in prime condition, although the roads of South Down are in a more satisfactory condition than those in my constituency of South Armagh. That, however, is a separate argument. In a far-flung rural area the important point is that hospital services and medical provision are essential. I certainly want to see such provision restored to Mourne.

Mr McGrady said that this area is a significant holiday destination. I am very happy to tell the House that only last week I used it as a resort. There was not much sun, but many of the great features we have come to expect were just as Mr McGrady said. To be able to cater for that increase in population at seasonal times as well as for accidents, emergencies and people who become unwell or need medical treatment is another valid reason for provision in the Mourne area.

4.30 pm

I want to hear a clear, outlined commitment from the Minister that she will give sympathetic consideration to any request from the Newry and Mourne Trust to fund a hospital or medical facility in Mourne. That will right a very great wrong and make good promises that her predecessors from other Administrations gave but never brought to reality.

I am happy to add my support to Mr McGrady's motion.

Mr M Murphy:

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I congratulate Mr McGrady for tabling this motion. In saying that, it needs to go further. It needs to go right across the board in relation to health and social services, taking in not only Kilkeel, but also Newry and Mourne and south Down. I welcome the business plan proposed by the Kilkeel Trust to the Department and hope that it takes that plan on board and also that it provides proper capital funding to help update the health service right across Newry and Mourne and south Down; that is badly needed in that area.

The Southern Health and Social Services Board need to fill the following posts in Daisy Hill Hospital immediately - a consultant surgeon to replace the one who left some months ago, a respiratory consultant and a new consultant in accident and emergency. Those posts will significantly strengthen the hospital's resources. While I welcome the acquisition of a new CT scanner by Daisy Hill Hospital and the appointment of an additional consultant radiologist, there is also the need to strengthen cardiology with a new consultant in that department. I wish to see the board strengthen the hospital in order to provide a first-class service to the people of Newry and Mourne.

I also want to see improved primary-care services. We need better cover for the whole of Newry and Mourne and the Down District Council area. The health board must review its arrangements and ensure that all GPs are properly involved in well-resourced out-of-hours services which provide first-class care to all our people. We need better community service, which is targeted to people's requirements that will support them in their homes. We need to ensure that money is invested in health and personal services.

A very small percentage of our wealth is spent on essential services. We must aim to increase that investment and make sure that our public services are of a high quality. The Executive need to support the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety and make sure that she has sufficient resources to invest so that she and her Department can start to tackle the causes of ill health.

The opportunity for the development of an all-Ireland service must not be overlooked. Such a policy would provide something from which all could benefit, especially in Newry and Mourne where we are so close to the border. We have already seen the benefits of cross-border renal services. Similar benefits could be reaped right across the whole range of acute and primary care services. However, that would require proper integrated planning and a determination to cut through red tape and bureaucracy.

I want to see a new, properly equipped hospital in Downpatrick. Money must be found to provide that service, which is so desperately needed by people who are gutted about what has happened to their hospital. I am asking for a firm date on which the shape of those services will be made public, and a date on which money to build these services will be made available.

I want to highlight something that I feel very strongly about - the plight of the disabled in south Down and Newry and Mourne. A heavy burden of red tape is placed on their shoulders by inadequate procedures for applying for services to which they are entitled. The changes set up in November 2000 by the Housing Executive and the housing associations resulted in a unified housing selection scheme. The scheme awards points for housing. Social well-being assessments should have brought about important changes to disabled people and made their needs a priority.

This area is determined by the health and social services boards, but is it working effectively? In my opinion it is not. The scheme is too complex and needs continuous monitoring. The Northern Ireland Housing Executive's renovation grants scheme -

Mr Wells:

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I do not like to interrupt a debate on such a serious issue, but I suspect that the Member has drifted somewhat from the future of primary care in Kilkeel and Mourne Hospital. I have been listening with interest, but this is not directly relevant to the matter being discussed.

Madam Deputy Speaker:

I was trying to work out the geographical spread of the points that Mr Murphy was making. Will he please keep his comments to the subject of the Adjournment debate in hand.

Mr M Murphy:

I am sorry, Madam Deputy Speaker. The matter under discussion is health service provision in Newry and Mourne, not specifically primary care in Newry and Mourne, and that is what I am speaking about.

Madam Deputy Speaker:

We are not talking about Newry and Mourne in this Adjournment debate. The debate is on the provision of medical and health facilities in the Mourne area alone.

Mr M Murphy:

I am sorry, Madam Deputy Speaker, but that applies to what I am dealing with - health and social services provision in the Mourne area. I am speaking about south Down and Newry and Mourne. Mourne covers a big area. It is not specific to the Kilkeel area alone; it is a massive area, and the Member should be aware of that. He is, after all, a representative of that area.

Madam Deputy Speaker:

Please continue.

Mr M Murphy:

As I said, the area is determined by the health and social service boards, and I asked if it is working effectively. It is not. The scheme is too complex and needs continual monitoring. The Northern Ireland Housing Executive's renovation grant scheme recognises the needs of disabled people. It funds the adaptation of properties and offers a design service, grants, finance and advice to elderly and disabled people.

Article 52 of the Housing (Northern Ireland) Order 1992 on the approval of applications for certain facilities for the disabled is the most important provision. It provides assistance to people in four areas, namely, enabling access to and around the home; facilitating the preparation of food and cooking by a disabled occupant; improving the heating system or providing a suitable one; and making it easier for a person to use sources of heat, light and power in the house.

The grant is mandatory. The procedure laid down in the 1992 Order begins when the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) receives an enquiry from a disabled person. Red tape then comes into operation. Two NIHE officers deal with grants. The welfare officer responds to public sector enquiries, and the grants manager deals with private-sector applicants. The NIHE will then ask the local health trust's occupational therapy department to carry out an assessment of a disabled person's needs for adaptation.

Mr Wells:

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am becoming increasingly concerned about the drift of the Member's contribution. Are we saying that we can raise any subject whatsoever under health and social services, provided that it affects somebody in the Mourne area? Are we specifically dealing with primary healthcare provision in the Mourne area? If we set that precedent this afternoon, can I do any amount of pontificating on any issue provided that it affects someone relevant to that debate?

Madam Deputy Speaker:

Order. The debate is not specifically on primary healthcare. This is in order.

Mr M Murphy:

Go raibh maith agat. The assessment by the occupational therapist determines the length of time that a disabled person will have to wait to have work carried out. The recommendations will also determine whether adaptations are necessary. If the decision is not favourable, the disabled person must seek an independent assessor to review his or her case.

However, occupational therapists are charged under section 2(e) of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 to have regard to the provision of assistance for that person in arranging adaptation work in the home, or the provision of any additional facilities designed to secure the person's greater safety, comfort or convenience - [Interruption].

Mr McGrady:

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am sorry to interrupt my Colleague. My explicit purpose in this debate was to ensure that a primary healthcare facility, a care centre in Kilkeel that was promised in 1996, was built. That is the subject of the debate. While the Member's comments would be legitimate in other debates, they are taking away from what I hoped would have been the focus - a ministerial reply on Kilkeel Hospital.


<< Prev / Next >>