21 April 2015

Question Time: Health, Social Services and Public Safety - Monday 20 April 2015


Concerns around the number of patients urgently referred with suspected cancer are beginning their treatment within 62 days remains below the ministerial target of 95% were discussed during today’s questions to Health Minister, Jim Wells. Jo-Anne Dobson asked the Minister "does he think that that is an acceptable situation?" .Mr Wells stated " the short answer to the honourable Member for Upper Bann is "No, I do not think that it is acceptable. There is massive room for improvement, and, indeed, the board has set challenging targets for the trusts to meet in the coming year.

I emphasise that there are two targets: the 62-day target and the 31-day standard, which is the time between diagnosis and first treatment. In fact, the trusts are doing exceptionally well on that target. For instance, the most recent figures that I have are 91% in the Belfast Trust; 100% in the Northern Trust; 97·6% in the South Eastern Trust; and 100% in the Southern Trust. Those figures are for up until February 2015. The latest figure that I have for the Western Trust is for up until December 2014, and, again, it is 100%. Clearly, once a diagnosis is made, the clinicians are very quick to organise and deliver treatment. The problem lies after the earlier reference from a GP for diagnosis, where there seems to be a delay".

George Robinson asked for the Ministers assessment of cross-departmental support to address suicide and would he outline some examples of actions being implemented by other Departments. The Ministed said "I found the meeting last week to be very useful. There was buy-in from all of the Executive, which was shown by the fact that Minister Durkan, Minister Storey and Minister McCann were all present. If other Departments were not represented by Ministers, a very high-powered group of officials came along to represent them. We worked well together.

The main work of the group is to refresh and update the Protect Life strategy, which was rolled out over the last two years. The good news is that the number of suicides in Northern Ireland has dropped from about 303 in 2013 to a provisional estimate of just over 280 for 2014. That is despite a situation in other parts of western Europe where the numbers have inexorably grown. So, we believe that the strategy is working. Therefore, the various activities that have been carried out by the Departments have been successful. However, we cannot be complacent, because 280 — I think it is 286 — suicides have a hugely devastating impact on a society the size of that in Northern Ireland. It is reckoned that every suicide in the Province affects 60 people directly, because of the close-knit society that we have".

The Minister also answered questions on Oakridge day centre and Sleep clinics. During topical questions Mr Wells also answered questions on Post-mortem Services, Abortion Guidelines and how the Minister intends to support the Alzheimer’s Society’s Right to Know campaign, given that there are around 7,000 people with dementia in Northern Ireland who do not have a diagnosis, a quarter of people who are diagnosed receive no information and support and around 90% feel that the support that they receive is inadequate.