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Cystic Fibrosis Incidence.

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 21 June 2005

Tuesday, 21 June 2005

Questions (31)

Liz McManus


52 Ms McManus asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the steps she proposes to take to deal with the fact that Ireland has the highest incidence of cystic fibrosis in the world and, as highlighted by the Pollock report, dangerously inadequate staffing levels for the treatment of cystic fibrosis, which fall below internationally accepted norms, as well as the gross underfunding of isolation facilities, which leave patients at risk of cross-infection; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21025/05]

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Oral answers (5 contributions) (Question to Minister for Health)

I have seen the report that the Cystic Fibrosis Association of Ireland commissioned from Dr. Ronnie Pollock. The report confirms that Ireland has the highest incidence of cystic fibrosis in the world. It reviews existing hospital services for people with cystic fibrosis in the context of accepted international standards and concludes that the services available for such people are not of the required standard. The report includes an assessment of need for current and future cystic fibrosis patients. It makes recommendations about the numbers and categories of staff which are appropriate for a modern and multidisciplinary cystic fibrosis service.

The Health Service Executive established a working group following the publication of the report, at the request of the Cystic Fibrosis Association of Ireland. The working group is reviewing the configuration and delivery of services to persons with cystic fibrosis, in hospitals and in the community. The working group will make recommendations about the reconfiguration, improvement and development of such services. The multidisciplinary working group, which includes representation from the Cystic Fibrosis Association of Ireland, held its first meeting in early April. I understand that it hopes to complete its work in the next few months.

The Pollock report is one of a number of reports about cystic fibrosis services being considered by the working group. The working group's endeavours will result in an agreed proposal for the development and reconfiguration of services for cystic fibrosis patients in Ireland. I will be glad to meet representatives of the Cystic Fibrosis Association of Ireland and the Health Service Executive to discuss the development and reconfiguration of services for persons with cystic fibrosis.

I welcome the Tánaiste's agreement to meet representatives of the Cystic Fibrosis Association of Ireland. They have sought such a meeting for some time, but have been unable to extract a commitment to that effect from the Tánaiste. I look forward to the meeting.

Having read the Pollock report, does the Tánaiste accept that conditions are so severe and acute that it is not enough to establish a working group to put in place the short-term measures which are needed? She is simply not facing up to her responsibilities in this regard. Dr. Pollock has warned that the conditions in St. Vincent's Hospital, which is this country's major cystic fibrosis centre, are so acute that there is a serious risk of cross-infection from virulent organisms. If such an outbreak arises, it might result in litigation similar to that associated with the hepatitis C infection scandal. Such a warning deserves a response from the Tánaiste. She should not hive off her responsibilities in this regard to a working group that might produce a report or a national plan at some point in the future that could be months or years away. We face a serious risk in the meantime. Acute problems such as insufficient staffing, gross overcrowding and a lack of isolation, protection and safeguards are being encountered in St. Vincent's Hospital, where most cases of cystic fibrosis are dealt with. What is the Tánaiste doing to relieve such risks and pressures?

I have met the CEO of the Cystic Fibrosis Association of Ireland as part of my dealings with another group. I would be more than happy to meet other representatives of the association. The Department of Health and Children receives approximately 600 letters, including many invitations, every four days. I assure Deputy McManus that I would be happy to meet representatives of the Cystic Fibrosis Association of Ireland and any other group. The working group to which I referred in my response was established at the request of the association. Some €300,000 has been made available to St. Vincent's Hospital for minor works. The hospital authorities are making new facilities available. I have allocated over €42 million under this year's capital programme for the purchase of the equipment needed at the new hospital building to which St. Vincent's Hospital will move as soon as possible.

I share the Deputy's view on this matter. The working group will need to consider the reconfiguration of services, which are far too disparate at present. Six different areas are covered at the moment. I will not give details of the plans to bring together the facilities currently offered at Beaumont Hospital and Temple Street Children's University Hospital. There is a need for a specific group to sit down to work out how to bring the manpower and facilities together. The €300,000 that has been allocated to St. Vincent's Hospital will facilitate the appointment of a locum consultant. The working group is anxious for that appointment to be made. While some resources have been made available, I agree that we have to do more. I hope we will see significant improvements at St. Vincent's Hospital, which is the national centre in this field, when the new hospital building is in operation and after some further decisions have been made later this year.

When the Minister meets the association, will she be in a position to say to the family members of those who suffer from cystic fibrosis that the gross risk of infection is being dealt with, that the provision of care at St. Vincent's Hospital will meet the best standards and within what timeframe? It is very easy to talk about working groups being set up to deal with national plans but commitments need to be made on consultant cover at the hospital. I understand that when the consultant goes on holiday, there is no one to cover the position, which is extraordinary. What timeframe is the Minister talking about in terms of dealing with the acute problems at St. Vincent's Hospital? When can people be secure in the knowledge that their family members will be in safe conditions and will be cared for with sufficient staffing to meet their needs, regardless of the time of year? What timeframe is the Minister talking about?

This year. The money was provided to recruit additional staff, including a locum consultant, a physiotherapist and other nurse specialists, and also to provide additional bathroom facilities to avoid the infection issues to which the Deputy referred. Together with what is currently happening, additional space is being made available at St. Vincent's Hospital for cystic fibrosis patients. This is happening as we speak.