(Limerick East): I propose to take Questions Nos. 5, 24 and 44 together.
A series of initiatives relating to cancer, which includes a national cancer strategy, have been circulated to other Departments for their comments. It is my intention to bring these initiatives to Government in the very near future and I hope to be in a position to publish the national cancer strategy without delay.
The national breast screening programme is one of the initiatives which forms part of the National Cancer Strategy and it is intended to commence the first phase of the national programme in the Eastern, North-Eastern and Midland Health Boards as soon as possible.
I am not aware of the recent survey to which the Deputy refers. However I know that breast cancer is the most common cause of death among women in Ireland, accounting for approximately 650 deaths every year. The aim of screening is to detect breast cancer at an early stage, when it is amenable to treatment, before it has had the chance to spread. Medical evidence has shown that mortality can be reduced by up to approximately 25 per cent in women who attend for screening and that the benefit is greatest in women aged between 50 and 64 years.
A major factor affecting the success of a screening programme is the establishment of a population register, which will reach over 70 per cent of the target population, because at least 70 per cent of the target population must participate in the screening programme if the programme is to significantly reduce mortality. However, there are difficulties under current data protection legislation in obtaining names and addresses from existing data sources — e.g. the VHI, and the Department of Social Welfare — of women who should be offered screening. Following discussions with the Department of Justice and the Data Protection Commissioner and advice from the Attorney General, I am satisfied that the matter can be resolved by a minor legislative amendment under the Health Acts. I am giving this amendment immediate priority.