Health Minister Mr. Edwin Poots said that the recent meeting he had with a group campaigning to have Group B Strep tests offered routinely to pregnant women was one of the most difficult he has ever had.
He recently received a delegation from the campaign group wanting the tests to be offered to expectant mothers at 35-37 weeks pregnant to detect Group B Strep. If it is found present, antibiotics given during labour can protect the baby from infection. Some countries offer the test routinely but the UK does not.
The campaign group also want better information and advice given to women as part of their ante-natal care. The issue was highlighted in last week's Impartial Reporter when former Enniskillen woman, Helen Savage, wrote about the campaign to save babies' lives after losing her first born son.
Speaking to The Impartial Reporter on Friday during a visit to Enniskillen, Mr. Poots said, "I am normally very decisive but I do not know the right thing to do about this. This was one of the most difficult meetings I've had, it was very emotiownal and I feel a huge amount of sympathy for the people who met me," he said.
Mr. Poots said some people in the medical profession have told him that tests could do more harm than good.
The Minister said that they agreed to analyse pathology reports on infant mortality to see if there was a higher incidence in Northern Ireland and to signpost people towards advice on how to stop Group B Strep.
He said his medical advisers were telling him that administering antibiotics at this stage of a woman's pregnancy might not be straight forward either.
He agreed to have a detailed look at the issue over the next few weeks and months before making a decision.
On other issues, he looked at the funding of hospice care, he said his Department funded hospice care in Northern Ireland to the extent of £3 million. But he recognised that the majority of funding for hospice was money raised from the public as opposed from the public purse. However regarding the Horizon's West Children's Hospice in Fermanagh which has now raised over £1 million to construct the new premises at Killadeas, the Minister said it was developed without his Department being asked if it would support it.
"We recognise that it's a long way for people(in Fermanagh) to travel to Belfast for palliative care and I've always encouraged the Hospice to make sure they had a close working relationship. The Hospice provides good value for money and we want to continue to work with them," he said.
Commenting on the Western Health Trust proposals to finalise £32 million savings for the three-year period by the end of this financial year, the Minister said a number projects were identified including the closure plan for Drumhaw House, Lisnaskea.
Other areas where the Department wanted to save money were at Tyrone County Hospital and a freeze on surgical assessment.
The upgrade of the A32 road between Enniskillen and Omagh will be partly financed by the Department for Health to coincide with the opening of the new Acute Hospital for the South-West, the Health Minister has revealed.
Mr. Poots said that although the Department for Regional Development had announced the road scheme upgrades, his Department was sharing the overall cost to make the journey to the new hospital which opens next June, a lot easier for people.
He said some of the upgrade schemes along the road were "more than cosmetic," such as the improvement works at Drumskinney between Irvinestown and Dromore by March 2012 and further improvements at Shannaragh, between Dromore and Omagh to be completed by March 2013.
He said these improvements followed the announcement last week by the Roads Minister, Mr. Danny Kennedy, of the completion of the Cherrymount Link road in Enniskillen.