Cuba health visit for MLAs Sue Ramsey and Jim Wells

News from Cuba | Tuesday, 20 September 2011

By Marie Louise Connolly BBC Northern Ireland health correspondent

Stormont's health committee is to send representatives to Cuba to observe its health care system.

Despite being regarded as a third world country, politicians and doctors say they hope to learn from the Cuban model which produces one of the highest life expectancy rates in the world.

Sinn Fein's Sue Ramsey and the DUP's Jim Wells will attend the four-day conference in Havana in December.

The average person in Cuba lives to about 77, compared to 71 in Belfast.

The communist system also produces world leaders in eye care.

A cataract operation in Cuba costs about £40, while the same surgery in Northern Ireland costs hundreds of pounds.

Compared to Northern Ireland, Cuba has more doctors, surgeons but fewer hospitals. It relies more on health centres and clinics and thousands more operations are carried out every year.

When asked if the assembly members' trip represented good value-for-money, a committee source said spending several thousand pounds now could save millions in the long run.

The BBC understands that the committee has priced the trip at about £2,000 per person, but it could cost less.

A clerk may also travel with the two MLAs on their visit, which is part of the committee's review on health inequalities.

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