Written Answers. - Treatment Referrals Abroad.

P. J. Sheehan

Question:

135 Mr. Sheehan asked the Minister for Health the number of patients who had to be referred overseas for treatment in the past 12 months; whether the facilities for such treatment are or could be made available in this country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [984/94]

The latest figures which are available indicate that a total of 158 patients were referred abroad for treatment under EC regulations in 1993.

The majority of these patients were referred abroad for specialised procedures such as bone marrow transplants, heart-lung transplants, and liver transplants, and referrals were necessary due to the unavailability of the services or the shortfall in facilities for such operations in this country.

To address the shortfalls additional resources have been provided in recent years to allow upgrading of services, including the bone marrow transplant unit at Our Lady's Hospital in Crumlin. Work is also well underway on the new oncology-haematology-bone marrow transplant unit at St. James's Hospital. These developments when complete should allow the National Centre at the two hospitals to deal with most of the bone marrow transplant cases arising in this country.

In relation to liver transplants, the National Centre for adults at St. Vincent's Hospital was fully established last year and has achieved a high success rate. This followed a considerable investment in services and staff training in co-operation with the Liver Unit at King's College Hospital, London. The proposed children's liver unit at Our Lady's Hospital in Crumlin is still under development.
Developments such as these will allow Irish patients to be treated nearer to home and avoid serious disruptions associated with travelling abroad for treatment. However, it must be accepted that it will not be possible to provide the resources necessary for all highly sophisticated procedures to be made available in this country because of the high cost of such techniques. It will continue to be necessary to refer patients abroad for treatment in some cases. The position regarding referrals abroad is kept under regular review in my Department and improvements to specialist services will continue to be made as resources permit.