I propose to take Questions Nos. 9, 51 and 71 together.
The Government is committed to progressing the implementation of the Hanly report for the benefit of all patients. I have established implementation groups for the Hanly report in both the east coast and mid-western regions. The groups will carry out the detailed work of identifying the services that should be provided in each hospital, in line with the Hanly recommendations.
Regarding hospital services outside these two regions, I have announced the composition of a group to prepare a national plan for acute hospital services. The group contains a wide range of expertise from the areas of medicine, nursing, health and social care professions and management. It also includes an expert in spatial planning and representation of the public interest. The group has been asked to prepare a plan for the reorganisation and development of acute hospital services, taking account of the recommendations of the national task force on medical staffing, including spatial, demographic and geographic factors. Neither the local implementation groups nor the acute hospitals review group has been able to meet due to the consultants' continuing industrial action. I again ask that all parties return to the table to progress the work of these groups.
I emphasise that the Hanly report is about developing hospitals, not closing them. In the mid-western region's acute hospitals, for example, we have increased the total staff numbers by almost 1,200 since 1997. We have provided an 80 extra consultants during that period and increased ambulance personnel by 77%. There have been important investments in Ennis, including a new €5.7 million acute psychiatric unit, and I have approved the appointment of design teams for further improvements in Ennis General Hospital and Nenagh General Hospital. These initiatives illustrate the Government's commitment to smaller hospitals as a continuing and vibrant element of our acute services.
Other key elements of the Hanly proposals are being progressed. Negotiations with the Irish Medical Organisation on the reduction of NCHD working hours are continuing in the Labour Relations Commission. A national co-ordinator and support team are overseeing the implementation process in the health agencies. Regarding the consultant contract, a number of meetings have taken place between officials of my Department, health service employers and representatives of the Irish Hospitals Consultants Association and the Irish Medical Organisation. These talks are also affected by the current programme of industrial action by the Irish Hospital Consultants Association.
On medical education and training, the sub-group of the task force which dealt with these issues has remained in place. The group has been asked to examine and report to me on the measures required to accommodate NCHD training in all postgraduate programmes and safeguard both training and service delivery during the transition to a 48-hour working week. A major national seminar was held last January involving all stakeholders including training bodies, employers and medical representative bodies. Drawing on the views expressed at this seminar and the ongoing work of the medical education and training group, draft proposals have been developed with a view to ensuring the provision of high-quality training for NCHDs in the context of the initial implementation of the 58-hour week and the eventual implementation of the 48-hour working week. I anticipate that these proposals will be submitted to me in the near future.