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Stormont MLAs 'not interested' in NHS

Stormont's next health minister has criticised fellow MLAs for not taking enough interest in NHS issues in the Assembly.

Jim Wells, who will succeed Edwin Poots in the ministerial post next year, said he was disappointed that debates in the chamber seem to be only attended by members of the health committee and one or two others.

Noting the sparsely populated benches as he and DUP colleagues tabled a motion calling for the introduction of a strategy to promote better patient safety, Mr Wells, who is vice chairman of the health committee, said: "I am disappointed that to a large extent, with the exception of Mr (George) Robinson and Mr (Jim) Allister, that this to all intents and purposes has been the health committee speaking to itself," he said.

"It does disappoint me that such an important department, which is responsible for 40% of the expenditure of the entire Northern Ireland block grant, which employs 70,000 people, that when we do hold debates in this house the only people who really show an interest are members of the health committee with one or two exceptions.

"And I think that we as an Assembly need to address that issue because really this was an opportunity for those who hadn't the insight of the health committee to express their concerns and other comments about this issue, but that really didn't happen."

Mr Poots was present for the debate on the motion, which focused on minimising the risk of a patient falling victim to unintended harm or even avoidable death through a clinical mistake, diagnostic error or other problem while being treated.

It called for a strategy to ensure the chances are reduced, stressing the need for medics and nurses to be able to flag up genuine errors without fear and to encourage patients to raise concerns about treatment.

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Mr Poots said a strategy - Quality 2020 - unveiled last year to improve services in the NHS would address all the concerns raised during the debate.

"I am strongly committed to the principle of protecting and improving the quality of health and social care services, especially safety," he said.

"Patient safety as a key component of quality has been and continues to be my priority and for all of those working in the health and social care system, and I am convinced that Quality 2020 is a robust strategy which will play a major role in protecting and improving the quality, especially safety, of health and social care services for the people of Northern Ireland over the next 10 years."

The motion was passed unanimously.

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