THE Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety, Bairbre de Brún, announced on Monday details of a new process she has set up to help her decide on the future site of a new maternity facility in Belfast.

The consultation process has been designed to help the minister to decide whether to keep and expand services currently located in the Royal Jubilee Maternity Hospital or to relocate to the Belfast City Hospital or to the Royal Group of Hospitals.

Last January Ms de Brún decided that the new Belfast Maternity Hospital should be located on the Royal Group of Hospitals HSS Trust site. However following a judicial review this decision was overturned in November 2000. The Minister then announced to the Assembly that she intended to initiate a new consultation process to assist her in determining the siting of the new maternity hospital.

Speaking on Monday Ms de Brún said: "I well understand the importance of getting this decision right. This issue has been running unresolved for a number of years and it is important that I take the necessary steps to end the uncertainty that is hanging over these important services. A new maternity hospital is vital to the future of both local maternity services in Belfast and specialist services for the whole region.”

At the heart of the new process will be the development of a specification for the centralised maternity unit. Following a period of public consultation the specification will be formally issued to the Belfast City Hospital and Royal Group of Hospitals Trusts, and each will be invited to submit proposals for developing the maternity unit on their respective sites. The Trusts’ proposals will then be issued for a further period of public consultation.

Announcing details of the new process, the Minister said: "My aim is to arrive at a decision that will provide the best possible maternity service for women, mothers and babies in the years to come."

The Minister stated that she hoped to take her decision early next year following the completion of the process. (AMcE)

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