11/02/2014 Stormont Today


A political programme focusing on the day's events at the Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive. Mark Carruthers is the guide through the corridors of power at Stormont.

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Hello and welcome to Stormont Today. Coming up in the next 30 minutes:


The Health Minister responds to news that delays in treatment may have


contributed to the deaths of five people at a Belfast hospital. The


public need to know that mortality is lower in Northern Ireland and it


is in England in our hospitals. We hear from an MLA angered by the


Health Minister's decision to consult further on the issue of


organ donation. The statement proves one thing in this House today, the


personal commitments of every First Minister needs nothing. You can


serve an issue to death, meanwhile people continue to die.


And the News Letters Sam McBride casts his eye over the day's


proceedings. News broke this morning that as many


as five patients died in Northern Ireland's biggest hospital last year


partly because they were not treated quickly enough. Dr Tony Stevens,


Medical Director of the Belfast Health Trust, said the deaths


happened at the Royal Victoria Hospital. A Sinn Fein MLA used his


topical question during Question Time to ask for the Health


Minister's response to the deaths. There is always an number of deaths


in emergency departments. The speed of what appropriate medical care is


a factor and that includes ambulance response times, diagnostic testing


and the provisional -- provision of clinical care. I ensure the best


outcome for the individual. I did express my concern about the Royal


Victoria hospital. I am aware of the five cases that have been referred


to. While I don't have the specific details I have asked my officials to


ascertain whether the systems in place for learning are fully


functional and to identify issues of concern. It is important to reassure


the public about the overall safety of these services. Overall,


mortality figures for Northern Ireland hospitals compare favourably


with the rest of the UK. Let's be very clear, the public need to know


that mortality is lower in Northern Ireland than it is in England in our


hospitals. Would the Minister cup -- contrast that news with his comments


in early January that the situation with the Royal was a one off? The


discussion we had in January was about three days. This particular


issue we are discussing is about the five incidents over the course of a


year. We need to be very careful and very sensitive on how to handle


these things and I don't intend to engage in some ping-pong about


people 's deaths. Can I assure the House and neither will I have the


design view for sustained political and media focus which has led to


these revelations which might not always come to the fore. We conclude


the Minister Ivan did know or didn't know about the long-term pressures


when he was making his earlier remarks. Will he agree with me the


public might the right to suspect there was at least a disguising of


the situation or at worst a cover-up? It has been said in this


House a number of times and people ignored it. I attended the Royal


Victoria hospital on the morning after the major incident was


declared. I spoke to staff and I took my actions on the basis from


speaking to staff. Nothing else, nothing more. The Health Minister,


Edwin Poots. I'm joined now by the News Letter's Political


Correspondent, Sam McBride. Another tough day for Edwin? It was. It has


to be said, he does front up on these occasions and comes out and


answers the tough questions, he did that at the time of the crisis in


the Royal a few weeks ago. It also has to be said this change to the


assembly question Time when MLAs can ask topical questions is a massive


improvement from six months ago. It would have been impossible for


anyone to ask him what was on the radio this morning. It was good he


could face those questions. It is a difficult position he finds himself


in. I suppose some people might say he ordered a major review into the


Royal last week. What else can he do? That is a fair question. It is


clear why nobody wanted this portfolio when they were dividing up


the departments at the election. Nobody wanted this, they all had the


chance to go for it. The DUP, as the largest party was left with it. It


is such a large department. Education is enormously important,


not everyone has children or interested in schools, but everyone


uses hospitals. As we move towards an election we will see this as a


big issue, OK it is a European election, but they are contested on


much more mundane issues sometimes in this part of the world. We have


had flags, parades and all of that stuff, but aside from that, and


massive issue will be the health service. He has been critical of the


media in recent weeks for its handling over the health stories


that have come to light. He was accused himself of responding to


media pressure. Is that a fair criticism? It is difficult for


journalists sometimes to report specialised issues like health. It


is incredibly specialised. The idea of having bigger hospitals, which


the evidence seems to suggest are safer and Edmonton -- Edwin Pitts


has been pioneering. It is difficult to explain to the public which ones


do have a local hospital, even if it is not the safest hospital. But a


lot of this stuff would not have come out if it had not been for


brave people in the health service you are speaking to journalists who


have concerns. It is a tough department to be in charge of. He


does not look like a man who is on the verge of being asked to


relinquish his position. He'd theoretically should have gone now


as Minister? When Simon Hamilton replaced Sunni Wilson last year, the


DP said it would be January if there was any change. January has come and


gone and we have seen nothing. It is unlikely we see him move unless


there is a huge crisis. I don't think that is likely. Sam, thank you


for now. The Health Minister was very much centre stage today as he


reported back to the Assembly on consultation about organ donation.


The Ulster Unionist MLA Jo-Anne Dobson is campaigning for a change


to the current legislation, but Edwin Poots said he needs more


evidence before changes can be made. We'll hear from Jo-Anne Dobson in a


moment, but first here's a flavour of what was said in the chamber this


morning. The strategy does not propose soft opt out legislation and


should be introduced as UK wide policy. The strategy proposes that


three groups, society, individuals, NHS hospitals and staff, NHS


commissioners need to act for this strategy to be successful and


achieve the desired outcomes. 56% of respondents said they would be in


favour in changing to a soft opt out system. However, when asked if they


agreed with the statement everyone should presume to be an organ donor


unless they register otherwise, 49% agreed, indicating there is some


confusion about the idea. Minister, your statement proves one thing in


this House today. The personal commitment of the first and Deputy


First Minister means nothing. People continue to die. Will you give a


commitment to this House when you know the results of the second


public survey, which I gather could be up to a year away. You will bring


the soft opt out system before the end of this mandate, or perhaps you


will commission and other survey followed by another survey, followed


by yet another survey? I think that I couldn't be in a position to


actually indicate that I know the outcome of what the second survey


would actually produce. I did not dictate what people responded to in


the survey. We asked people questions and they came back with


answers. I know organ donation is hugely important to the member, and


personally her family have benefited from that. I am not against the


proposals that Mr Dobson has produced on soft opt out. That might


be the right way forward but it is important we educate the public and


bring the public with us on these issues, if we are going to take what


is a significant step, but nonetheless the right step, but at


this moment in time, I haven't got the powerful evidence base that I


think we should have to move ahead just at this point in time. Recently


on a number of occasions I have heard an MLA in the assembly making


the point that when a department or minister wants to kick something


into touch, he asks for more evidence. I am wondering, given the


evidence, is this a case of looking for more evidence or are you kicking


it into touch? That MLA was Jim Wells. I could not argue with him. I


am not interested in taking this into touch, I am interested in


getting the best outcomes. People can judge me as being genuine or


not. I sincerely believe we should be encouraging more people to donate


their organs. It is a sensitive issue, and it is something we need


to be careful in how we manage the public and that we don't take the


public for granted. I would encourage people to actually read


the statistics that have been produced from the public health


agency. They are very, very interesting. In fact, it indicates


there could be a community difference or a religious difference


in terms of organ donation. People from the Roman Catholic community


for example, would be less inclined to have their organs donated than


people from the president community. That was a flavour of the exchanges


in the House today. Jo-Anne Dobson is with me now. Do you think he is


deliberately holding things up? I was deeply disappointed, as were


thousands of people about this statement. Here is the opportunity


for the health minister and the executive to provide meaningful


legislation and give hope to those waiting across Northern Ireland. I


was exasperated again, another consultation, another survey. 12


months down the line. Meanwhile, in those 12 months 15 local people will


have died waiting for a transplant. He said no powerful evidence -based


that is needed to move ahead exists at this time? I totally disagree


with that. He has got that wrong in your view? I did my consultation


over the summer, 82% in favour of soft opt out. If he came with me to


meet those charities and campaigners, members of the public


coming up to me saying, we are all behind you, it makes common sense.


He says he will carry out another survey to sample public opinion.


Your view is that it will simply tell him what you're survey has


already told him? That is why I am so frustrated, that is the reality.


Meanwhile it will be this time next year for him to know what we already


know. What did departmental officials tell you about the timing?


Why is it waiting until the autumn? I was to meet with the minister but


he had to go to another meeting. I have tried to meet with the Minister


this time to get answers to these questions. All we know is they are


doing another survey late autumn and there will be another year before we


get the results. It is unacceptable, 15 people will die. You think he is


kicking the can down the road? That is exactly what he is doing. He's


putting it off. People would say, he is the health minister, he has


responsibility for this potential important legislation and he has got


to get it right. He has to satisfy himself the evidence exist to move


in the way you want it to move. He is the health minister and you are a


back venture. -- backbencher. I wrote to them on the 20th of


November. When you have the First Minister and Deputy First Minister,


is the minister letting the civil servants rule him? The wishes of


there. Is the deal going to be cabled? That is what I'm doing, I'm


working into the small hours of the night drafting the bill, soft opt


out. Wouldn't it have been lovely for the executive and health


Minister to get behind me, sit down and work together to speed up this


bill, rather than leaving it on me to go it alone? That is why I'm so


disappointed. Here was an opportunity for the health minister


and the executive to deliver, a missed opportunity. Again, people of


Northern Ireland have been let down. Just to be clear, you are


disappointed, but you are not going to let it stop you doing what you


wanted to do, which is to pursue this yourself? Never underestimate


the power of a determined female, especially one with 20 years


association with charities and the mother of a transplant patient. I am


resolute, I will not be found lacking, I will not let the people


of Northern Ireland down. I'll be doing what is right and progressing


with soft opt out. We will continue to keep an eye on it, it's


developing into an interesting situation.


The budget bill is currently making an accelerated passage through the


assembly. While it was discussed today, the roadblock prevented


welfare reform from getting anywhere and reared its head. One MLA called


it a Mexican stand-off between the the DUP and Sinn Fein. The purpose


of the bill is to authorise the issue of ?15,530,833,000 from the


Northern Ireland Consolidated fund in 2013-14. This is an additional


123 million since the estimates were presented last year. This cash is


drawn down on a daily basis as needed, from the Northern Ireland


Consolidated fund, managed by my department on behalf of the


executive. The bill also authorises the use of resources totalling


?16,606,564,000 by departments and certain other bodies, 5 million more


than approved in the last estimates last June. The order states that


accelerated passage may be allowed for budget bills, provided that the


committee are satisfied and it has been appropriately consulted on


public expenditure proposals contained in the bill. On the 5th of


February, departmental officials briefed the committee and her


questions on the budget bill being debated today, including on issues


relating to a range of departments. In addition to the evidence, the


committee has also scrutinised the bills to the financial year. Finance


minister suggesting a figure of ?1 billion, the figure may be in


dispute, but the fact that there is and will continue to be a cost of


doing nothing is indisputable. I don't support every part of the


welfare legislation. However, the place that proposed it was not


Westminster. The room that we have in this house is for local


determination. I support local determination in the framework of


the bill. Where there is room for... What there is not room for is


a continued Mexican stand-off between parties. What we need is


constructive dialogue on the welfare bill, not a microphone debate. The


minister yesterday and today has been right to highlight that issue.


It is the elephant in the room, the elephant of welfare reform. There is


a catastrophe, potentially coming down the road, for all constituents,


if the issue is not grasped soon. Deputy Speaker, when we compare this


with the approach to financial scrutiny and the devolution of


further tax powers to Northern Ireland, the difference is again


starker. Scotland held a far-reaching commission to examine


the issues in their entirety and make progress on financial scrutiny.


Despite the executive's unanimous support for devolving corporation


tax, what preparations for enhanced scrutiny have we made in this house?


Inevitably, this brings me onto welfare reform, also referred to as


cuts my colleagues across the way. The finance minister has been saying


much of this recently. To be fair to him, I concur. With much of what he


says, anyway. But it is deeply regrettable we have seen ?50 million


set aside for penalties. This is wasted money. It was not ?50 million


that directly affected the most vulnerable, nor was it spent wisely.


It was spent while the parties engaged in an exhaustive process of


negotiation around the issues. It is not acceptable that this bill is


still festering away in the corridors of Stormont Castle. The


question the minister has to decide in relation to this debate and where


he takes his department forward is simply is he a Sammy or is he a


Swinney? That is the difference between a minister knowing what it


is to be in power, John Swinney, the finance secretary, and one two,


whilst capable, is more about theatre than substance, which, is


the legacy, in my view, of his princess. Now our third and final


instalment from the health minister. Before topical questions, Edwin


Poots was asked about cancer drugs, flu vaccinations and the major


incident at the Odyssey Arena. I think the first responders provided


an excellent service at the Odyssey Arena. They dealt with a lot of


people at a site, without bringing them to hospital. There were able to


provide them with the support and care they needed. Indeed, they


initiated a major incident, that was something absolutely necessary and


the right thing to do, given the scale of the event that was a caring


and the possibility that it could have got considerably worse. They


ensure hospitals were well placed to deal with the numbers that that come


in. In response to a recent question I tabled to the education minister


that indicated that 50,000 were days were lost amongst the teaching


profession last year as a result of flu related illnesses, with the


Minister consider working with a minister to extend a flu vaccination


programme to teachers? We are targeting schoolchildren because flu


is so common and easily spread whenever you get into that


environment. Certainly, we want our teachers to be teaching, not sitting


at home sick, and I'm sure they want to be teaching as well. If that is


something the education minister wishes to take up with me, I am


happy to liaise with him. The cancer programme in England has granted NHS


access to a 238 drugs that are not available here. Would the Minister


consider a Cancer Drugs Fund model year or approaching his counterparts


to address this inequality? Certainly, and if they approached me


to do it I would do it very quickly. That would be charging something for


perceptions once again, which would allow others to establish a


specialist dogs fund, not just for cancer drugs, but for specialist


drugs that are not regularly available. -- drugs fund. I think it


is the right thing to do. I think any good socialist would want to do


it because those of us who could afford to pay for drugs would ensure


that people who really need them but can't afford them would have the


opportunity to receive them. We would save people's lives. The


busiest man in Parliament buildings today, Edwin Poots. The environment


Minister Mark H Durkan said he would consider a ban on election posters


during his questions today. The minister was also asked about one in


the consumption of alcohol on buses. His session began with some


confusion over planning applications. With the Minister


detail any sensitive planning applications which he is currently


discussing to transfer to OFM DFM, or is likely or intending to discuss


such a matter with them soon? Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. Thank you


for the supplementary. Any failure to answer the supplementary will not


be a deliberate attempt to avoid answering it, it will just be down


to a complete lack of understanding as to what he means. I am the


Minister for the environment. My department is responsible for making


planning decisions and I am currently involved in no


negotiations with the First Minister and Deputy First Minister. I am


fairly certain that my department is not involved in any conversations


with the Department of the First Minister, or the Deputy First


Minister, around the transfer of any particular application, sensitive or


otherwise. However, if there is a particular application that he would


like to discuss with me, or with OFM, DFM, I would be happy to meet


with him at a later stage. Can I ask the minister if he has given any


consideration to review the legislation relating to the display


of election posters, including a ban on election posters? Under the


legislation as it stands, planning rights to all parties in advance of


an election, reminding them of the requirements. Under planning law, no


advertising and may be displayed without consent granted at the


department, but exemptions exist for election posters in advance of a


pending election. The display of election posters is a cause of


annoyance for many members of the public and political parties are


reminded of this annoyance every time we have an election. They are


also a headache for those of us who have to put them up and take them


down, although I have been told that my days as a poster boy might be


over. It is an issue I am very much aware of. It is something I am


willing to look at. I have been considering a review of current


legislation in advance of the media interest in this particular issue.


As part of that review, I will examine a range of options,


including a ban. Has the minister had any update in respect of the


allegations Rambus is being used to ferry alcohol at the weekend towards


the Odyssey Arena? -- allegations of buses being used. Thank you for that


question. I have just answered Mr Eastwood's question and I see this


very much as a follow-on to that. Yes, I am aware of alcohol


consumption on many buses and coaches responsible for taking young


people to the event at the Odyssey on Thursday night. That is something


I have said we had to address. We have to deal as a department,


weighing gauge, with the proprietors -- we have to engage with the


proprietors of the buses and make sure they were taking every step


possible to ensure that alcohol was not being consumed on their bus,


particularly by minors. Sam McBride has joined me. We just heard from


Jo-Anne Dobson earlier about organ donation, something she is clearly


passionate about. Where is the DUP on this? We seem to have


contradictory positions from the First Minister, the health minister,


Alistair Ross, preserving his own agenda? It's an unusual position to


seek the DUP or Sinn Fein MLAs take radically different positions on


this. Some people in the DUP feel extremely strongly and they are


willing to come out and say they disagree with the position the First


Minister seems to be adopting. Last week, Peter Robinson released quite


an intriguing statement, where he said he supported both his own the


UUP MLA Alistair Ross's bill, but also Jo-Anne Dobson's bill, even


though a lot of people would see them as being close to, if not


completely, mutually exclusive. He is in a somewhat difficult position.


But in many ways, these pills and the issue of human trafficking, this


is the normal politics that happens in any legislative area in the


world. In that regard, it's not unusual that in a big party,


increasingly a broader church than it used to be, the DUP will have


people that take different editions on what is pretty much an issue of


conscious. How do you see the debate unfolding? The DUP has various


issues on how it recedes. Then we have Jo-Anne Dobson, clear in the


studio, that she is going to pursue her agenda and try to get her


private members bill through as soon as possible. She seems very


determined, she was very articulate in terms of how she got it across.


She clearly has a story in terms of her son which is very persuasive.


When she says people will die if it is not taken forward, I think it's a


difficult argument to counter. I think Alistair Ross's argument has a


certain amount of merit in that he is saying that the evidence from


other countries is that the best way to get people onto a register is not


to make them feel they are being forced onto it. I think there is a


genuine split and I don't think, that some people have assumed, that


this is the DUP trying to block a bill, I think it is very much a


difference of opinion within the DUP. Some people think it would be a


popular measure, they would be happy to see it go through, Alistair Ross


does not. A different political debate. And, isn't it? Don't forget


to join me for The View on Thursday night at 10:35 on BBC One. Thanks


for watching. Goodbye.


A political programme focusing on the day's events at the Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive. Mark Carruthers is the guide through the corridors of power at Stormont, and is joined by key people from decision makers to opinion formers to make the experience enlightening and entertaining.

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