I propose to take Questions Nos. 269 and 271 together.
Last October I launched a report entitled The Development of Radiation Oncology Services in Ireland. It provides a detailed plan for the further development of radiation oncology services here. The Government accepted its recommendations.
The report recommends that patients be treated at Cork University Hospital and in the "Eastern Region (South)." To date I have approved the purchase of two additional linear accelerators for the Cork centre and the necessary capital investment amounting to €4 million to commission the service as rapidly as possible. In 2004 a sum of €1 million in ongoing revenue will be made available for the development of these services at Cork University Hospital. I will also provide for the appointment of two additional consultant radiation oncologists in the Cork unit. This means a doubling of the consultant manpower at that unit. At present discussions are taking place between Cork University Hospital and representatives of the SEHB to finalise sessional commitments to the board of the additional consultant radiation oncologists.
I have also approved the appointment of a project team to prepare a brief for the rapid expansion of the current capacity at Cork University Hospital from four to eight linear accelerators. Next week the project team will meet for the first time. These developments will have significant benefits for patients from the region.
With regard to the eastern region, the report recommended that there should be two treatment centres, one serving the southern part of the region and adjacent catchment areas and one serving the northern part of the region and adjacent catchment areas. I have asked my Department's chief medical officer to advise on the optimum location of radiation treatment facilities in Dublin. A request for proposals will issue shortly in this regard.
I intend to develop a national integrated network of radiation oncology. The twin objectives of equitable access regardless of location and an effective national quality assurance programme need to be supported by a co-ordinating mechanism, as recommended in the report. I have established a national radiation oncology co-ordinating group. Recently it held its first meeting. It is comprised of clinical, technical, managerial, academic and nursing expertise from different geographic regions. The group's remit encompasses measures to facilitate improved access to existing and planned services, including transport and accommodation. I expect it will develop proposals in these important areas.
The Government has also decided that in the future development of services consideration should be given to developing satellite centres at Waterford, Limerick and the north-west. Such consideration will take into account the international evaluation of satellite centres, the efficacy of providing this model and the need to ensure quality standards of care.