Tuesday, 10 February 2004

Ceisteanna (257, 258)

Liz McManus

Ceist:

333 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Health and Children if equitable access regardless of location as a stated objective of the radiotherapy report is in practice a reality for terminally ill cancer patients who require radiotherapy for relief of pain; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3616/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Liz McManus

Ceist:

334 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Health and Children his views on whether patients in areas not facilitated by radiotherapy will not have access to radiotherapy for pain relief in the last period of their lives; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3617/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Health and Children)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 333 and 334 together.

As the Deputy is aware, I launched the report, The Development of Radiation Oncology Services in Ireland, in October 2003. I established the expert group on radiotherapy services to ensure that we effectively plan the current and future development of this element of cancer care. Palliative care was identified as a particular issue in relation to radiotherapy services and the expert group included a consultant in palliative care among its membership. The report provides a detailed plan for the further development of radiation oncology services in this country. The Government has accepted the recommendations of this report.

The Government accepts that there is under-capacity in radiation oncology services at present. The model of radiation oncology service proposed in the report provides a framework that provides improved access for all patients, including patients who require radiotherapy for palliation. The implementation of the report's recommendations is the single most important priority in cancer services in the acute hospital setting. Since the launch of the report, I have approved the purchase of two additional linear accelerators for the Cork centre and the necessary capital investment, amounting to more than €4 million, to commission this service as rapidly as possible.

In 2004, €1 million ongoing revenue funding is being 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. Discussions are taking place with Cork University Hospital in relation to the sessional commitments of the additional consultant radiation oncologists which will include significant sessional commitments to both the South Eastern and Mid-Western Health Boards. I have also approved the appointment of a project team to prepare a brief for the rapid expansion of current capacity at Cork University Hospital from four to eight linear accelerators. This project team is meeting for the first time this week.

I am making available €2.5 million ongoing revenue funding to ensure that the necessary resources are in place to allow for the commissioning of the radiation oncology centre in University College Hospital, Galway. Approval issued last year for the appointment of a consultant radiation oncologist. I will also provide for the appointment of an additional two consultant radiation oncologists. Discussions are taking place with the Western Health Board in relation to the sessional commitments of these consultants, which will include significant sessional commitments to both the Mid-Western Health Board and the North Western Health Board.

I have requested the Western Health Board to prepare a development control plan to facilitate the expansion from three to six linear accelerators in the medium term. I have also approved the establishment of a project team to plan this expansion. These developments will significantly improve access to these services. In relation to the Eastern region, the report recommends 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 the chief medical officer of my Department to advise on the optimum location of radiation treatment facilities in Dublin. A detailed request for proposals will issue shortly in this regard.

It is my intention 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 now established a national radiation oncology co-ordinating group. The group, which recently held its first meeting, comprises 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. The group is developing proposals in this area which will involve consultation with all health boards.

In addition, 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.