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4 Feb 2004 : Column 944Wcontinued
Mrs. Iris Robinson: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many sufferers from rheumatoid arthritis in Northern Ireland are waiting to commence anti-TNF drugs; and if he will make a statement. 
Angela Smith: At 15 December 2003, the latest date for which figures are available, there were 389 patients waiting to commence anti-TNF drug treatment in Northern Ireland. I announced on 13 January that I would provide additional resources for anti-TNF drugs for 200405 and the detailed funding allocations will be made shortly in consultation with HSS Boards and Trusts.
Mrs. Iris Robinson: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many individuals are awaiting the commencement of treatment with (a) beta interferon and (b) glatiramer for multiple sclerosis. 
Angela Smith: At 20 January 2004 there were 66 people awaiting the commencement of treatment with these medicines. The decision as to which medicine is appropriate is a matter for the patient's doctor, in consultation with the patient, when treatment is to begin.
Mr. Lidington: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the recent meeting between the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office and the Ulster Political Research Group. 
Jane Kennedy: The Government have always said that we will work with those who want to engage in democratic politics. At our recent meeting I recognised the constructive approach of the UPRG but made clear that the many social and economic problems affecting loyalist working class areas cannot be tackled effectively against a background of widespread and continuing paramilitary activity. Attacks on prison officers' homes; hoax bombs at schools and elsewhere in the city; and involvement in drugs and organised crime are totally unacceptable. I also made clear, regarding Maghaberry, that we are working with the Prison Service to develop a safe regime for prisoners and prison officers, but that control of the prison by prison staff would be maintained at all times.
Mr. McNamara: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland for what reasons he has decided to limit provision for meeting the commitments of the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister funding for minority ethnic voluntary organisations to a one-year period; and what assessment he has made under section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 of the equality impact of his decision. 
4 Feb 2004 : Column 945W
A draft Race Equality Strategy was issued for public consultation on 25 February 2003 and an independent evaluation of the funding scheme was commissioned in June 2003. The final evaluation was received in December 2003.
I propose to bring forward the final version of the Race Equality Strategy by the summer. In bringing forward the strategy, I will wish to consider very carefully the independent evaluation of the funding scheme and the views of key stakeholders.
In the circumstances, I thought it prudent to extend the existing scheme for a period of one year. Any change to the existing funding arrangements in light of the new strategy will, of course, be subject to assessment under section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.
Angela Smith: The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) are only applicable to England and Wales. The Department are considering how guidelines issued by NICE can be used in the context of Northern Ireland's health and social services.
Mrs. Iris Robinson: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many patients in Northern Ireland are awaiting (a) inpatient admission and (b) initial outpatient assessment, in neurosurgery. 
Mrs. Iris Robinson: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many patients are awaiting (a) in-patient admission and (b) initial out-patient assessment in Northern Ireland; and what the comparative statistics were at 12-month intervals over the last five years. 
4 Feb 2004 : Column 946W
Angela Smith: The most recent waiting list data available shows the position at 30 September 2003. Data in the tables refer to the position at this date in 2003 and at the same date in the previous five years.
|Quarter ending 30 September||Number|
CH1 parts A and B.
|Quarter ending 30 September||Number|
CH3 parts 1 and 2.
Angela Smith: Information on the number of individuals awaiting physiotherapy assessment is not collected centrally. However, information is collected centrally on completed waiting times for a first outpatient appointment of an episode of care with a community physiotherapist. The total number of persons attending their first outpatient appointment, and the number of those who had waited for six months or more for their appointment, is shown in the following table. The information is in respect of six-month intervals from the quarter ending 30 September 1998 to the quarter ending 30 September 2003 (the latest date for which such information is available).
|Total number of||Persons who waited sixmonths or more|
|30 September 1998||9,863||14||0.1|
|31 March 1999||10,679||19||0.2|
|30 September 1999||11,837||51||0.4|
|31 March 2000||11,704||83||0.7|
|30 September 2000||11,492||188||1.6|
|31 March 2001||13,446||142||1.1|
|30 September 2001||12,754||324||2.5|
|31 March 2002||14,154||475||3.4|
|30 September 2002||14,303||441||3.1|
|31 March 2003||15,644||570||3.6|
|30 September 2003||12,798||420||3.3|
4 Feb 2004 : Column 947W
Angela Smith: The average time taken by the Department of the Environment's Planning Service to issue a final decision in respect of planning applications in Northern Ireland over the last three previous years is as follows:
|Total average days||139||134||137|
|Total average weeks||20||19||20|
Mr. Dodds: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what the average time is for a planning appeal hearing to take place in Northern Ireland after an application for an appeal has been lodged. 
Mr. Paul Murphy: As the Planning Appeals Commission is a tribunal Non-Departmental Public Body, I have asked the Chief Commissioner to write to the hon. Gentleman directly in connection with the information requested.
Mr. Dodds: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what the average time taken by his Department was to respond to letters of objection from people regarding planning applications in 2003. 
Angela Smith: It is Planning Service's policy to acknowledge all letters of objection within three working days, and where specific questions are raised, it is the policy to issue a reply within 15 working days.
However, it is often difficult to deal with specific questions at an early stage of the processing of an application, as detailed consideration will not have taken place by the divisional planning office and consultee replies will not have been received. More substantive replies can issue at a later stage. In addition, all those who object to planning applications are informed in writing of the final decision and the reasons for that decision.
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