St. Lukes Amendment

Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2010, re St. Lukes Hospital Dublin and the Cancer Treatment Services – Speech by Dan Neville TD, Fine Gael Spokesman on Mental Health – 3rd June 2010

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the important Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2010, which provides for the dissolution of the St. Luke’s Hospital board and the transfer of its employees, assets and liabilities to the Health Service Executive.

As Deputy Reilly stated, for more than 50 years St. Luke’s Hospital in the Dublin suburb of Rathgar has been caring for cancer patients from all over Ireland and thousands of patients have experienced the excellent care it delivers. Staff and patients at St. Luke’s Hospital have campaigned for a number of years on the grounds that this move would not be in the best interests of the patients it treats. Apart from the intention to move off-site in 2014, we know little more about the hospital’s projected future. Given that this matter is of particular interest to patients and staff, perhaps the Minister could inform the House about what decision has been made regarding the future use of the site and its facilities.

I wish to raise the issue of cancer services. It was disappointing to read in today’s The Irish Times an apology from the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Áine Brady. Information she read out in the Dáil three weeks ago suggested that Clare County Council had required planning permission for the location of a mobile digital screening unit in Ennis. This gave the impression that Clare County Council had been responsible for the delay in the provision of breast screening, which was incorrect and unfair to the council’s staff and members. Planning permission was not required at any time by the council. Indeed, it has provided a site for the mobile unit, but the service has not arrived. In the 2001 national health strategy, Quality and Fairness, the Government promised that programmes for breast and cervical cancer screening would be extended nationally. Almost ten years later, this has still not happened.

At the end of March, Fine Gael Deputy Joe Carey asked the Minister for Health and Children the position regarding the roll-out of BreastCheck to County Clare. Conveniently and as regularly occurs, the Minister was unable to respond due to industrial action. Perhaps she will take the opportunity when replying to clarify the status of BreastCheck in County Clare. Given the facts that there is a site, planning permission is not required and the Government promised to roll out BreastCheck, why has this not been done?

Regarding the radiation oncology plan, in early April we learned of a dispute between the HSE and management at the UPMC Whitfield Clinic in Waterford. According to the managing director of UPMC, the HSE failed to renew the contract on radiotherapy services, which expired at the end of December 2009. UPMC tried to put a new agreement in place that would have offered improved services at reduced rates but it failed to get any meaningful response from the HSE. It was not until this issue hit the headlines that the HSE seemed willing to engage on a new service level agreement. I understand that discussions have been held. Perhaps the Minster could confirm whether this process has concluded and agreement been reached. If not, how will the issue be progressed and how long will it be before completion?

I was relieved when the Minister reversed her decision on the cervical cancer vaccine. This is a matter on which Fine Gael and Deputy Reilly in particular campaigned for a number of months. Fine Gael welcomes the long-awaited commencement of the cervical cancer vaccination plan, but more detail is required. My colleagues in Fine Gael and I would like more detail from the Minister about the HSE’s plan, breaking down which students will be vaccinated in May and which in September and providing more information on the decision to vaccinate some girls in schools and some in special clinics. It is important that we get the implementation right. Poor uptake, as has been the case in other jurisdictions, will fail to protect the maximum number of girls and represent poor value for the taxpayer.

Like Deputy Reilly, I urge the Minister to prepare and implement legislation on the regulation of sunbeds. This was a recommendation within the national cancer control programme of 2006. Years have passed but little has been done. Action in this regard would have a clear benefit in helping to reduce the cause of cancer. The measure would have long-term benefits for the health service, in that it would reduce costs.

I compliment and highlight the contribution of the board and staff of St. Luke’s Hospital to the provision of cancer services. As the Minister stated, their contribution has been significant. I thank current and former board members, management and staff for their commitment and dedication. As the Minister also stated, the board has provided considerable support for and co-operation with the process of integration into the cancer programme. However, concern has been expressed in certain areas of the country regarding services for cancer patients after they leave the hospital. Sligo was highlighted to me as being one such area. Patients coming from Galway believe they have inadequate after-care services. After-care services are not consistently bad throughout the State but in some areas they are less than adequate for the continuing care and rehabilitation of people following cancer treatment.