Approximately 1,000 patients every year from the south-east region must travel either to Dublin or Cork for treatment due to the lack of radiotherapy services at Waterford Regional Hospital. In 2004, some 815 patients were referred from Waterford Regional Hospital to St. Luke's Hospital in Dublin while 209 patients were referred to Cork University Hospital. In 2005, some 721 patients were referred from Waterford Regional Hospital to St. Luke's Hospital in Dublin and 205 were referred to Cork University Hospital.
Some of these patients are being referred for short radiotherapy daily sessions but because of the travel involved are forced to stay away from home while undergoing treatment. Some patients are quite ill, requiring either therapeutic or palliative treatment for their cancers. If these patients could be treated within the south-east region the issue of staying away from home and of long harrowing journeys for treatment could be eliminated or very significantly reduced.
The Taoiseach indicated on his visit to the Waterford constituency on Monday, 16 October, at the launch of the new Whitfield Clinic in Butlerstown, that Waterford is to get an integrated satellite centre for radiotherapy services based at Waterford Regional Hospital. However, the date set for this public private partnership project is 2011. By taking the public private partnership route, the people of Waterford and the south east will not have their radiotherapy service for another five years, at the earliest.
Yet, radiotherapy treatment for both public and private patients can be provided in the very near future at the University of Pittsburgh medical centre at the Whitfield cancer centre. The planning permission for Whitfield includes a condition that two linear accelerators, the equipment that provides the service, be installed at the centre. Although the two linear accelerators could be installed by now, only one is in place. However, it has been indicated by the clinic that they will proceed with the installation of the second linear accelerator even in the absence of any arrangement for the funding of public patients.
When he was in Waterford, the Taoiseach said he knew the Whitfield clinic had approached the Health Service Executive in relation to providing radiotherapy services to public patients. However, there is absolutely no indication that funding is going to be provided by the Department of Health and Children for the HSE to fund patients needing radiotherapy at the centre. The Taoiseach also said he understood the clinic and the National Treatment Purchase Fund had entered into discussions with a view to providing treatment for public patients. It is not clear if the Taoiseach's comment refers to radiotherapy. The National Treatment Purchase Fund provides for patients who have been on a public waiting list for three months. This is hardly an appropriate vehicle for cancer patients waiting for radiotherapy service.
As the one who started the campaign for radiotherapy services in Waterford, I am absolutely appalled and find it utterly unacceptable that now, when a solution is at hand to prevent cancer patients having to endure harrowing journeys or unnecessarily being away from home at a time when they need the help and support of their families and friends, the Government is not availing of this opportunity. The Government parties dither while the most vulnerable sick people continue to suffer. The people of Waterford and the south east will not stand for this.
I demand that the Minister gives an undertaking that immediate steps will be taken to provide radiotherapy for public cancer patients in the south-east region at Whitfield clinic, Waterford. The lack of urgency and commitment on the Government's part is shameful, barbaric and unacceptable. I put it to Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats that failing the public patients of the region on this occasion will probably be the greatest low in the very chequered existence of the Government.