Tá mé fíor bhuíoch as ucht an deis a thug tú dom an cheist thábhachtach seo a ardú ar an Athló tráthnóna.
It gives me an opportunity to allow the Minister of State, on behalf of the Minister, to give a full explanation for the delay in implementing a report on the testing of doctors for infectious diseases. Last week's episode at the Mater Hospital might not have happened if some of the recommendations in the report had been implemented. The Minister must accept responsibility for his failure to attend to this matter in the 14 months since the report was completed.
Last week's alert at the Mater Hospital and the Blackrock Clinic was most disturbing and a matter of major public concern to the 400 plus cardiac surgery patients who were involved. The alert arose after a doctor who had operated on the patients or assisted at the operations later tested positive for hepatitis B. This is the second such scare in recent times in the Republic. The last one, two years ago, followed the jailing in Britain of an Indian doctor who had worked at several Irish hospitals and who had continued to carry out surgery in the UK when he knew he was carrying the hepatitis B virus.
Following that revelation the Minister for Health established an advisory committee in February 1995 to report on the transmission of infectious diseases. That committee reported in September 1995 but its report has never been published and its recommendations have not been implemented. I want the Minister to explain why he has taken no action on that report which deals with testing doctors for hepatitis B and other infectious diseases. In sitting on the report the Minister has been grossly negligent on an issue of major public importance.
Given the ongoing hepatitis C controversy, the Minister could not but be aware that action on this report was still outstanding. The hepatitis C controversy must also have underlined for him the seriousness of the issues involved with the transmission of infectious diseases in a health care setting. While I accept that the issues involved are complex and that there is a necessity for consultation with the various groups involved, one would expect that after a year some headway would have been made. This is not the case and the Minister appears to be deliberately putting the report on the long finger so that he can avoid taking decisions.