Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Sudden Infant Deaths.

1.

asked the Minister for Health the number of sudden infant deaths recorded in the last year; and if he will make finance available to the Irish Sudden Infant Death Association for further research and investigation into such deaths.

The number of certified sudden infant deaths or cot deaths in 1979 was 90.

The Irish Sudden Infant Death Association have not sought funds from my Department to finance research into the causes of sudden infant death. Research into this problem is being carried out by the Medico-Social Research Board. The activities of the board are financed by my Department.

What level of finance has the Minister given to the Medico-Social Research Board for research into this matter?

If the Deputy waits for the next question, he will probably get the answer he requires.

Is the Minister aware that there is considerable concern in the Sudden Infant Death Association that when the Medico-Social Research Board research has been completed, no further funds will be made available for a national study under the auspices of his Department or anybody else? Will he repeat the assurance given by the former Minister for Health in January 1969 that funds would be available for a national study when the pilot study is completed?

The Government, the Minister, and the Department are very concerned about this situation and the cause of sudden cot deaths. Indeed, we are studying investigations carried out in many countries. I am sure the House is aware that, at this time, even in Europe, the United States or anywhere else, no definite cause has been discovered for these sudden cot deaths. I further inform the Deputy that he is talking a little in the future and that if the research is not completed with the amount of money now available, he can rest assured that the Department will make more money available for further research.

Does the Minister accept that we are not really arguing about the research which is at present going on, but about the commitment given by the Taoiseach, when Minister for Health, to further research after the conclusion of the pilot study? Will he ensure that the Government's concern which he expresses in this matter is matched by the provision of resources after the completion of the pilot study? Is the Minister aware that the pilot research, for example, which is being carried out under the Medico-Social Research Board does not include any rural parents or families and that there is a major gap which should be plugged by further research?

When a research group of any kind is set up, it is normal to select a particular area to carry out the initial pilot scheme. In this instance, the area selected was Dublin, the area of greatest density of population. That does not mean that when we have examined the results of that pilot scheme, we will not continue to research into this problem until we discover the cause of sudden cot deaths, because of the concern, not only of this House, but of parents and the public in general. So far we have no medical evidence to tell us the reason for what the Deputy referred to as sudden cot deaths.

A final supplementary question from Deputy Boland.

Would the Minister consult with the Taoiseach about the help which it is intended to give?

Deputy Boland, please.

Will the Minister of State give an undertaking that moneys will be made available next year for further research?

The Deputy can rest assured that moneys will be made available for research into this particular problem——

Next year?

——because of the concern of this House and the concern of the public.

I take it that the undertaking has been given now?

It has, indeed.

2.

asked the Minister for Health the number of cot deaths each year in Ireland; the amount of money at present being made available for research into the disease; the up-to-date position on such research; and his future proposals in this regard.

3.

asked the Minister for Health if he will outline the arrangements made to date by his Department to make moneys available for research into sudden infant deaths; and if he is aware of the concern, particularly among the parents who have been affected by cot deaths, at the delay in the arrangements for the commencement of this research

With the permission of the Ceann Comhairle, I propose to take Questions Nos. 2 and 3 together.

Sudden deaths of unspecified cause in infants were not identified in the International Classification of Diseases, which is the basis of our mortality statistics, until 1 January 1979.

The number of certified sudden infant deaths or cot deaths in 1979 was 90. Because no specific provision existed prior to 1979 for coding of these deaths, comparable statistics for earlier years are not available. The Medico-Social Research Board is carrying out research into sudden infant deaths. This research commenced as a pilot study designed to test the methodology of further research. This pilot study has now developed into a two-year study of the deaths of infants who died between one week after birth and one year of age. It relates to Dublin city and country and to the period April 1979 to March 1981. This study will help to identify some of the circumstances associated with sudden infant death. It will also help in deciding on what form future research in this area should take.

The cost of this research is absorbed in the general expenditure of the Medico-Social Research Board. The extent of future expenditure will depend on what research is decided upon following evaluation of the results of the current study.

I fully appreciate, and, indeed, share the concern of all parents who have lost infants through `cot deaths' and I am eagerly awaiting the outcome of the present study.

When the Minister says that the money made available is included in the general allocation, surely the information must be available as to precisely how much money is being spent on research into infant sudden deaths?

Yes. In reply to the Deputy, it is very difficult to know how much money will be spent on research of this kind. When a research body is set up and perhaps after two or three months of research the cause of the problem is discovered, then one does not require any more money. In this particular instance, as I said earlier in reply to Deputy Kenny's question, we have no evidence from international studies, studies from EEC countries or anywhere else, as to the cause of this problem. I am telling the House that as money is required for this research, it will become available under general expenditure.

The Minister may not have understood me, or I may have misunderstood him. Am I to take it from his reply that it is open-ended how much money the board spend, that they can splend any amount they see fit? Is that the position?

Well, I did not actually say that.

Then there must be a limit on the money available to them.

There is not. The Deputy should know that in any research project in a health department, as in any other department, when money is required and it is found necessary, the Department, and the Government, make it available for that research.

How much money has been made available to date.

I will endeavour to get that information for the Deputy.

That query is contained in the question.

It is a separate question.

It is part of Question No. 2.

It is not a separate question. The Minister was asked a question and surely he must have the information available. Is accountability in the Department such that the Minister does not know how much he is spending?

As the Deputy is aware, the information is not contained in my file. I do not have a copy of the Estimate for my Department with me.

I am calling Deputy Quinn.

The Minister has implied that I should know something but all I know is the content of the question asked and that the Minister should be prepared to give a reply to the House.

The Deputy has put three supplementaries already.

The Minister was formally asked a question and he should answer it.

I have called Deputy Quinn. I am not responsible for the replies of Ministers.

Is the Minister not prepared to answer the question?

He does not know the answer or he will not tell us.

No Member would ever accuse the Chair of being responsible for the answers given by Ministers; the Chair's job is difficult enough. Has the Minister an answer to Question No. 2 on the Order Paper? The second line of that question asks the Minister to tell the House the amount of money at present being made available for research into this disease.

That question has been formally asked.

I will give the Deputy one bit of information. The salaries of staff engaged in this research work will amount to £10,500 in 1980. One of the problems associated with this is that the sub-committee have not sat for some time because the membership of four members has lapsed.

That is not an answer to the question.

A total of £10,500 has been allocated for salaries.

That is some measure of the Government's concern.

That would not be enough to keep one person in full time employment on such work.

A person engaged in that work would not be overpaid at that amount.

Questions Nos. 4, 5 and 6, inclusive, are for written reply.