Tuesday, 19 October 2004

Questions (144, 145, 146, 147, 148, 149)

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

275 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the progress that has been made in the development of radiation oncology centres in Dublin, Cork and Galway. [25170/04]

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Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

277 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if radiation oncology centres will be provided in regions other than those earmarked for Dublin, Cork and Galway, in order that patients do not have to travel 100 miles or further for ongoing treatment; and if she will treat this as an immediate priority. [25172/04]

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Brian O'Shea

Question:

310 Mr. O’Shea asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her proposals to have the alternative report for radiotherapy submitted by the Cancer Care Alliance (details supplied) considered by Government; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25492/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 275, 277 and 310 together.

The Government is committed to making the full range of cancer services available and accessible to cancer patients throughout Ireland. To this end, we will provide considerable investment in radiation oncology facilities in the coming years. The central aim is to ensure access by cancer patients throughout the country to high quality radiation oncology in line with best international standards.

The Government's policy on radiation oncology are based on the report, The Development of Radiation Oncology Serves in Ireland. The report was prepared by a multi-disciplinary group of experts in radiation oncology, medical oncology, public health and palliative care, including professional and voluntary bodies such as the Irish College of General Practitioners, the Irish Cancer Society and Aid Cancer Treatment. The report has had significant international endorsement from such bodies as the US National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society.

Significant progress is being made in implementing the report's recommendations. Approval has issued for the purchase of two additional linear accelerators for the supra-regional centre at Cork University Hospital, CUH, and the necessary capital investment amounting to more than €4 million. Approval has also issued for the appointment of 29 staff for this unit, including two additional consultant radiation oncologists at CUH with sessional commitments to the South Eastern and the Mid-Western Health Boards. Following a three-month commissioning period, the first unit will be ready to treat patients in early 2005. In relation to phase two of the development, the design brief for the expansion to eight linear accelerators was recently submitted by the Southern Health Board to my Department and is currently being examined.

The supra-regional centre at University College Hospital Galway is constructed and the equipment is currently being commissioned. Approval has now issued for the appointment of 102 staff for this unit, including an additional consultant medical oncologist and three consultant radiation oncologists, two of whom have significant sessional commitments to the North Western and the Mid-Western Health Boards. The Western Health Board has been requested to prepare a development control plan to facilitate the expansion from three to six linear accelerators in the medium term. A project team is developing a design brief for this expansion and it is anticipated that it will be submitted to the Department in the near future.

In relation to the Dublin area, six hospitals have now submitted proposals for the development of radiation oncology services. I will be advised by the chief medical officer of my Department on the location of radiation oncology services in the eastern region and by other experts in the area. The chief medical officer will be assisted by a panel of international experts in this regard.

As recommended in the report, the national radiation oncology co-ordinating group has been established. The group comprises clinical, technical, managerial, academic and nursing expertise from different geographic regions. The group's remit encompasses recommending measures to facilitate improved access to existing and planned services, including transport and accommodation. The group will also advise on quality assurance protocols and guidelines for the referral of public patients to private facilities.

Funding of up to €1 million is being made available to develop a national Telesynergy® network for oncology services. The aim of the network is to improve service delivery and efficiency, to better use consultant's time, reduce consultant and patient travel, and support earlier and better diagnosis. Telemedicine is a key enabling technology to improve the networking of radiation oncology centres with outreach hospitals thus supporting expert case review, multi-disciplinary meetings, education and research.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

276 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her plans for the further development of cancer services in the North Eastern Health Board region. [25171/04]

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Since 1997 there has been a cumulative additional investment of approximately €28 million in the development of appropriate treatment and care services in the North Eastern Health Board region, for people with cancer. This investment has enabled the funding of ten additional consultant posts together with support staff in key areas such as medical oncology, haematology, breast surgery and palliative care. The funding has also enabled the appointment of 20 cancer care nurse specialists across the region.

Proposals from the North Eastern Health Board for further developments in cancer services are being considered by my Department in the context of the Estimates for 2005.

Question No. 277 answered with QuestionNo. 275.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

278 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will authorise development of a satellite radiotherapy unit for the south east region. [25173/04]

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John Deasy

Question:

296 Mr. Deasy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her position with regard to the provision of a radiotherapy unit at Waterford Regional Hospital; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25337/04]

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I propose to take Questions Nos. 278 and 296 together.

The Government is committed to making the full range of cancer services available and accessible to cancer patients throughout Ireland. To this end, we will provide considerable investment in radiation oncology facilities in the coming years.

In its decision last year on radiotherapy services, the Government remained open to the provision of a "satellite" radiation oncology unit in Waterford. We are determined to deliver enhanced services for the whole population as soon as possible. There is unanimity about the urgent need for significantly enhanced services in the major population centres of Dublin, Cork and Galway. I will keep the question of networked satellite locations under active review.

The immediate developments in Cork and Galway will result in the provision of an additional five linear accelerators. Five additional consultant radiation oncologists are being recruited for this service. These developments will significantly improve access to radiotherapy for patients in the south east and throughout the country.

As recommended in the report, The Development of Radiation Oncology Services in Ireland, the national radiation oncology co-ordinating group, NROCG, has been established. The group comprises clinical, technical, managerial, academic and nursing expertise from different geographic regions. The group's remit encompasses recommending measures to facilitate improved access to existing and planned services, including transport and accommodation. The group is expected to develop proposals in these important areas. The group will also advise on quality assurance protocols and guidelines for the referral of public patients to private facilities.

The NROCG is currently developing a national Telesynergy® network for radiation oncology services. The South Eastern Health Board has advised the Department that a Telesynergy® system should be installed in Waterford Regional Hospital. Arrangements are now being made to install this technology at the hospital which will enable the hospital to develop improved linkages with Cork University Hospital and St. Luke's Hospital, Dublin and reduce patient and consultant travel time.