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BBC NI Health Correspondent, Dot Kirby
Bairbre de Brun was in Londonderry when the news broke
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BBC's Talkback presenter, David Dunseith
Health minister Bairbre de Brun explains her decision
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Thursday, 27 January, 2000, 16:46 GMT
Maternity decision 'not political'

Successive ministers had postponed unit decision

Health minister Bairbre de Brun has insisted her decision to base regional maternity services at the Royal in Belfast was not politically motivated.

It means the Jubilee maternity unit at the City Hospital will be closed.

Speaking at Altnagelvin Hospital in Londonderry the minister said her decision was final and was taken after considering the views of a wide range of groups and received professional advice.

Ms de Brun said she was acting responsibly to ensure the safest and best decision for mothers and babies and future generations.

Her decision goes against the assembly health committee which last week voted 7-4 in favour of the City Hospital site.

The debate over where maternity services should be sited has raged since 1996 and centred on the government's intention to establish one unit at either the Royal Victoria Hospital or Belfast City Hospital.

The minister said she hoped the new maternity hospital would be in place in five to six years time but, in the interim, combined maternity services would be located at the refurbished Royal Maternity Hospital in west Belfast.

She said her decision was based solely on "what was best for women, mothers and babies".

Resignation call

But campaigners against closing the Jubilee unit are angry that the health committee recommendation was rejected.

A Democratic Unionist Party member of the committee, Iris Robinson, called on the minister to resign, saying she had thumbed her nose at the democratic process.

"The decision of our committee, after listening to many hours of representations from both the City and the Royal, was that the vast majority of the committee came down on the side of the City.

"This was cross-party and cross-community and it sets a very bad precedent for the new minister to ignore her committee's decision," she said.

Pam Smylie, a nurse at the Jubilee unit who led the campaign for services to be retained, said politicians must ask the minister for a full explanation.

"We would like them to question the minister's decision we would like them to ask her did she did not take the health committee's views into account? Was this decision based on the fact that she is representative for west Belfast? I think there are a lot of answers which need to be given," she said.

Assembly health committee chair Joe Hendron Joe Hendron: Committee chose other site
But health committee chairman Joe Hendron said that although he had been "embarrassed" by the minister's decision to reject his committee's decision, as a doctor he supported centralising maternity services at the Royal.

He said: "I have every respect for every member of that committee, wearing the hat as a public representative, but more importantly as a doctor who has campaigned for the last four to five years for the decision that was taken, I believe from a purely clinical point of view that the decision taken by the minister was the right decision.

"I am not interested in the politics in all of this.

"I believe for a regional hospital serving all the people of Northern Ireland, for both maternity and paediatric, the right place is beside the Royal Hospital for Sick Children."

'Views taken on board'

In a statement announcing her decision on Thursday Ms de Brun said:"I want to assure people that my decision is based solely on what is best for women, mothers and babies," she said.

"In the final analysis, the clinical arguments came down to the potential linkages of the new hospital to other on-site clinical services.

"My conclusion was that maternity services would be more clinically effective if located adjacent to regional paediatric services at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children and near to the Royal Group of Hospitals' Accident and Emergency Department.

She added: "My decision is not about winners and losers. Combining the two hospitals, and achieving an amalgamation of their fine traditions and dedicated staff, is about providing better and more modern services to mothers-to-be on both a local and regional basis."

Ms de Brun did not say how the building of the new maternity unit would be funded.

West Belfast MP and Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams welcomed the decision.

He said: "It is quite obvious that a combined maternity, gynaecology and neonatology unit adjacent to the childrens' hospital, with its new paediatric intensive care unit, makes best clinical use.

It is thought that the Jubilee maternity unit will be demolished to make way for the building of a new cancer centre for the province.

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See also:
20 Jan 00 |  Northern Ireland
Committee makes maternity decision
05 Nov 99 |  Northern Ireland
Decision time for maternity hospitals
19 Jan 00 |  Northern Ireland
Maternity hospitals fight for survival
03 Jun 99 |  Health
Mothers win hospital battle

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