Other Questions. - Blood Transfusion Service.

Deirdre Clune

Question:

23 Ms Clune asked the Minister for Health and Children the steps, if any, he will take to require the Irish Blood Transfusion Service to maintain two national centres for the testing of blood products; and if he will intervene to resolve the contention that has arisen between the two key centres of the service. [14587/00]

Responsibility for the organisation and management of the Irish Blood Transfusion Service is a matter for its board of management. In April 2000 the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children published its report on single site testing of blood products. The Joint Committee considered that the import of the presentations made to it might be that the security, back-up and synergy provided through enhancing the current two site testing arrangements seem significantly superior to relying on a new and, as yet, unproven centre for all the country's blood testing facilities. The report also refers to the need to ensure optimal patient care in accordance with international practice and to optimise resources to the maximum possible degree. It also refers to the risk of contamination of centralised laboratories and of closure due to industrial problems.

I understand that the board's preliminary consideration of the report took place at its meeting on 10 May 2000 and detailed consideration of the report is now taking place. I expect to meet the board as soon as it completes its consideration of the report. I also understand that the Joint Committee is meeting with representatives of the board tomorrow concerning the report.

The committee's report also refers to contention between two of the IBTS centres. I have also been informed by the board that its objective is to develop a national cohesive organisation which meets the needs of the hospital services effectively and efficiently. This objective is based on the need to address weaknesses identified in a number of reports including the report of the expert group on the BTSB, the Bain report and the report of the tribunal of inquiry into the BTSB – the Finlay report. Staff of the IBTS are located at three centres at present, namely, Dublin, Cork and Limerick. Additional staff will be located at two new mobile blood collection centres which are being established in Carlow and Ardee, County Louth. The board recently reviewed progress to date in achieving this key objective and considers that further action is now required given the establishment of two additional mobile centres.

The board fully recognises the importance of the participation of staff in the ongoing development of the organisation and in improving services to hospitals throughout the country. The board is also developing a revised committee/team structure which will ensure appropriate and ongoing involvement of staff in the planning and implementation of board policy. The board will review the implementation of this initiative on an ongoing basis.

I remain concerned about the ongoing tension within the IBTS. I have raised this matter with the board and there is a strong obligation on all concerned to resolve outstanding issues that have given rise to this tension.

Is the Minister aware that the report of the Oireachtas joint committee was unanimously adopted across party lines by all members of the committee? Will the Minister acknowledge that the controversy concerning the testing of blood products in Cork and Dublin has been going on for too long? Will he, in his meetings with the board, request and encourage it to agree to maintain testing in two centres and to provide for PCR testing in both centres to ensure that the public and patients will have the service to which they are entitled from the blood transfusion board and to bring to an end the ongoing disputes surrounding this issue that involve board personnel and medical professionals of eminence in the Munster region?

Given that I am from Cork, it is important that I approach this matter with the greatest possible degree of objectivity. We must endeavour to approach this issue with a view to achieving consensus and bringing everybody on board. The Deputy is correct in identifying the unacceptable and unsatisfactory history of this issue and the tensions that have arisen as a result.

I have had a number of consultations with the board and the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children took time in coming to its conclusions. I and the IBTS are examining its report and I look forward to meeting the board to discuss its contents. The key issues are safety and security for the future, the implications for blood supply throughout the country and donations and the development of a cohesive IBTS.

Will the Minister correct the record of the House with regard to the Adjournment debate last night when it was stated that autologous transfusion is available through the IBTS in Cork? My information is that is not the case. Has the Minister or Minister of State carried out any research on that since then? Will the Minister take any action to ensure that autologous transfusion is made available to people in the southern region?

I was not present for the Adjournment debate because of a previous engagement. However, I will have the matter checked and if the record needs to be corrected, that will be done.

Will the Minister advise the House whether it is indicative of ongoing difficulties within the board and a failure on its part to address those difficulties that it appears the main issue the board is returning to discuss with the Oireachtas Joint Committee is the committee's conclusions? Does the Minister agree it is unfortunate that the board put pen to paper within a matter of days of the publication of the committee's report demanding that it or aspects of it be withdrawn?

Any report of an Oireachtas Joint Committee must be treated seriously and with respect because it contains the views of different parties and people with different perspectives. The IBTS raised a number of issues about which it is not happy in terms of the report. It is within its rights to seek to have those issues discussed with the committee. I hope the committee's recommendations will be teased out and further clarified by the board with the committee. The exchanges will ultimately bear fruit.

Unfortunately, people on both sides appear to have taken entrenched positions and this has given rise to difficulties in resolving it. There is a need to consider conflict resolution and a means of facilitating a resolution because, ultimately, whatever structures emerge, people must work together in the overall organisation.

Does the Minister agree the board's reaction is indicative of the problems?