Dáil debates

Tuesday, 22 November 2005

4:00 pm

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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This week, four years ago, the Government launched one of the greatest election scams of the decade, namely, the national health strategy. We were promised a world class health strategy, launched by the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the then Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin.

Photo of Seán PowerSeán Power (Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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What about the Eircom shareholders?

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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Deputy Power should remain quiet. The national health strategy was to deliver 3,000 beds, a wish list of services for the elderly, 600 primary care centres and a national cancer strategy by the end of 2002. Four years later, after tens of billions of euro, we do not have the world class health system promised by the Government.

This week, many are left wondering where all the money has gone when we read the truly damning letter in the Irish Examiner to the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children from the southern region's only consultant medical oncologist, Dr. O'Reilly, who is now serving 500,000 people. In his letter he states he could not get hospital care for dying cancer patients because of a lack of beds. As a result of the failure to roll out breast cancer screening services, women in the southern region need more extensive surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and hormonal therapy.

Dr. O'Reilly describes how a cancer patient was left at home in pain as the only alternative was to admit her on a trolley in the accident and emergency unit. Previous cancer patients were put in wards surrounded by intoxicated people. The southern region has fewer consultants, fewer junior doctors and fewer liaison nurse supporters than any other region. In the ninth year of the Government, why in the name of heavens is a skilled and senior medical professional reduced to a desperate plea for action on behalf of his patients? Is this not a damning indictment of the Government? Does it not expose the inability to plan properly, spend wisely and invest well? Does it not expose the hypocrisy of the words of the Government for the past nine years in respect of national cancer strategy and world class health services? Does it not demonstrate how the Government has wasted the people's money, and as a consequence why, in some circumstances, people have died?

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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I do not accept that people working in the health service, the new units in the health service or the facilities are a waste of money. Money and a large amount of resources are used. The issues raised by Dr. O'Reilly, the consultant medical oncologist to whom Deputy Kenny referred, namely, the management of delivery of health, personal and social services, are the responsibility of the HSE and it has issued a statement outlining the investment made in the service in which Dr. O'Reilly works. Dr. O'Reilly had a colleague who left for another job so he is presently working on his own.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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He left because he was the solution to the problem.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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Allow the Taoiseach, without interruption.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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The Taoiseach is acting like Pontius Pilate.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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The former colleague of Dr. O'Reilly has taken up another post and I understand there is a locum working with Dr. O'Reilly. The matters to which he referred are being addressed by the management of Cork University Hospital. Since the implementation of the national cancer strategy some €80 million cumulative additional funding has been made available to the southern region.

An additional 11 consultants and support staff are being appointed across the region. The HSE has advised that approval has been secured in recent weeks to proceed to the next phase of the development of a €47 million oncology, cardiac and renal centre, which will include a dedicated 30-bed oncology ward. It is planned to commence construction of that centre next year.

Photo of Jim O'KeeffeJim O'Keeffe (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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Plans and promises are no good to someone who is dying.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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Arrangements are also being made to give effect to the establishment of a ten-bed medical oncology ward within the Cork University Hospital. Nobody would say that those facilities and new units are not enormously welcome and will prove to be very good value for money and a good allocation of resources.

Photo of Kathleen LynchKathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)
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When will they be ready?

Photo of Jim O'KeeffeJim O'Keeffe (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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That is no comfort for somebody who needs services now.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy can argue that it would be great if it was there 20 years ago but it was not. The fact is that it is there.

The expansion of radiation oncology services under the national plan announced by the Tánaiste last July has increased the number of linear accelerators from four to seven, which will greatly improve the access for cancer patients throughout Cork and the southern region to radiotherapy treatment. Planning is also under way for the development of the necessary infrastructure for the roll-out of the BreastCheck programme——

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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That has been promised for a number of years. We will get it in two years' time and there is a two year waiting list. There is a two year waiting list for a mammogram.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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This is leader's question time and Deputy Allen is not the leader.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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It seems as if people do not want to see the new facilities. I am just giving the facts, that these are major investments.

Photo of Emmet StaggEmmet Stagg (Kildare North, Labour)
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It is a pity the Taoiseach did not make them before now.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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These are major investments in the area that Dr. O'Reilly, who is the consultant medical oncologist, wants to see. The fact is that these issues have been approved. I presume he hopes that these facilities can be put in place as quickly as possible. There is approval for the oncology, cardiac and renal centre, which will include a dedicated 30-bed oncology ward. I am sure that will greatly assist Dr. O'Reilly, his patients and those in the Cork region who use the services. That is a fair and valid point.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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As usual, the Taoiseach answers every question about health matters with a pained expression, a flurry of figures, a litany of what has been spent and a firm resolve to do better. Will the Taoiseach acknowledge — we have heard all this before — that in his letter, Dr. O'Reilly states that he has been trying to resolve these issues for four years? Of course, Cork University Hospital is a wonderful building, a flagship hospital, and many of the people there do a wonderful job. However, this is about the level of service delivered inside the walls of the hospital. The specialists and frontline people are not there and dedicated staff in the wards are not available to patients when they need them.

The Taoiseach's Government has shown an unlimited capacity to spend the people's money. We remember the fanfare and the failure attached to the health strategy. We remember the €160 million spent on PPARS, the €3 million spent on the web portal of the former Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin. It is not about what one spends but how one delivers that spend.

The Taoiseach might not believe my words and might say that they are purely political. Let me quote from a letter from a constituent of Deputy Jim O'Keeffe's about her mother:

On the 23rd of October, my mother lay in bed at home crying with pain and Dr. O'Reilly could offer us no help as the hospital are short of beds and staff. We were forced to watch a lady, with pride and dignity, dying in front of us, due to a failing health service and for this I am angry, hurt and lacking confidence in Mary Harney's effort at reform... The following day I brought her to Cork University Hospital and again she was in a waiting room from 9 a.m. until she was given a bed in what I would call appalling conditions, 11 hours later. This ward was a rapid transit ward and although these staff were outstanding, patients were subjected to a distinct smell of urine and, I believe, unhealthy conditions in general. It was three days before she was transferred to a proper ward. Rapid transit? I don't think so.

These are the words of a constituent about her mother, in respect of whom the Taoiseach is spending money, her money, and the services are not being delivered. A world class health service? I do not think so.

Photo of Dan BoyleDan Boyle (Cork South Central, Green Party)
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Not to mention the people of Cork who are not getting any after-care.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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I do not think increasing the number of consultants by 700 is a waste of money. The implication, every time Deputy Kenny says that, is a negative one, though I know that is not the way he means it. Most of the money in the health Vote goes into buildings, equipment or staff. The buildings certainly are not a waste of money, I do not think the equipment is a waste of money because it is world class equipment and I do not think the staff is a waste of money. In the case of consultants, we have doubled the number of consultants. If Deputy Kenny or anyone else wants to say that we have doubled the number of consultants but they are all playing cards, I would accept that as a criticism if he believed it to be true, but I do not believe it to be true.

Photo of Liz McManusLiz McManus (Wicklow, Labour)
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That is a disgraceful comment. That is pathetic. Who told the Taoiseach that they were all playing cards?

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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Please allow the Taoiseach to continue.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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I will not leave it go unanswered that the money is wasted. The money is not wasted. The people are doing their jobs and working hard. We know that cancer will affect one in three of the population. There are now 107 more consultant posts and 245 more clinical nurse specialists in cancer services——

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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Why is there only one in Cork?

Photo of Kathleen LynchKathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)
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They are not in Cork.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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They are all working hard. They have helped to achieve——

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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The Taoiseach can talk about George Best's health and about Roy Keane. He should talk about the relevant issues. I am sick of listening to him.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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I am trying to answer Deputy Kenny's question.

Photo of Jim O'KeeffeJim O'Keeffe (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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Will the Taoiseach answer me? What will I tell my constituent?

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy O'Keeffe, it is not your question, you are not the leader of your party. Your leader is entitled to hear the answer, even if you do not want to afford the Taoiseach the courtesy of being heard.

Photo of Jim O'KeeffeJim O'Keeffe (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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It is my constituent who is dying, who needs treatment. Matters of courtesy arise in that situation.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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They have helped to achieve a cut in cancer mortality of at least 15% for those under 65. They have made an enormously successful indent into the problem that existed a few years ago. I am not saying everything is perfect, nobody is saying that, but we are building a radiotherapy network that will bring the service as close as possible to people in every region. That service has opened up in Galway, it has been expanded in Cork, two major centres will be built in Dublin — in Beaumont and St. James's hospitals — and in the area where Dr. O'Reilly is based. He is making points that he obviously believes are highly valid and I accept that.

Photo of Dan BoyleDan Boyle (Cork South Central, Green Party)
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He has been making them for the past four years.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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Approval has been secured in the past few weeks to move to the development of a €47 million oncology, cardiac and renal centre, which will include a dedicated 30-bed oncology ward. Dr. O'Reilly is making the point that his facilities are not good enough. In response, I am saying that these facilities have been improved. If the doctor is saying that he would like the development to happen more quickly, we will accept that and will do all we can to make things happen faster. Arrangements are also being made to give effect to the establishment of a ten-bed medical oncology ward within Cork University Hospital. It is not that nothing has happened or that money is being wasted.

Photo of Kathleen LynchKathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)
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It is just that very little has happened.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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Money has been allocated to a dedicated unit and that is quite significant.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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What about the smell of urine in the wards of cancer patients?

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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That should not be.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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It should not be.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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The Minister responsible is sitting beside the Taoiseach.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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Allow the Taoiseach——

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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It is appalling.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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We should ask that question of the 104,000 staff who are responsible and the management of those staff. I do not know if there is a smell of urine in the wards, but there are 104,000 people in the health service who are paid as much as I am to make sure that it is not there.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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Talk to the Minister responsible.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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We all have a responsibility and everyone is drawing their week's salary. If those problems exist, people are employed, under good conditions, to deal with them.

Dr. O'Reilly makes valid points on which I was asked to respond today and I am explaining what is happening in that hospital to deal with those issues. I accept that the improvements will not be made tomorrow, but they have been announced and approved and hopefully the work can be completed as soon as possible.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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I think the Taoiseach misses the point. The issue raised with him by Deputy Kenny is the extraordinary letter published in the Irish Examiner yesterday from the lone consultant serving 500,000 people in what was formerly the southern health board area. The Taoiseach said that a considerable indent has been made and then goes on to confuse the matter with national figures and so on. According to his letter, Dr. O'Reilly is the only oncologist in the region and is solely responsible for providing cancer care for 500,000 people. Is that true? Where does that leave the 107 consultants the Taoiseach says he has appointed during eight and half years in Government? The Taoiseach makes remarks about people who are paid as much as he is but the IMO is reported in the Irish Examiner this morning as stating that oncology nurses are leaving because of the lack of oncology support services in the former southern health board region. I hope the Taoiseach is not saying nurses are paid the same as he is. Those services are not being provided despite the fact that the Government has been in power for eight and a half years. The consultant in question said this week that a woman at home in pain and dying from cancer cannot be admitted to any of the four hospitals and the only way she can get access to care in a hospital is on a trolley in an accident and emergency department. How is that acceptable in 2005?

A consultant from Northern Ireland appeared on the television news last night to point out that lives have been saved in Northern Ireland because of their superior screening programme. There is no cervical screening in this jurisdiction and BreastCheck has not been rolled out in Counties Cork and Kerry. Hundreds of women in the southern region have attended meetings organised by my colleagues Deputy McManus, Deputy O'Sullivan, Deputy Lynch and Deputy Moynihan-Cronin demanding a service that, as Dr. O'Reilly confirms, is not available. What is the point in talking about billions of euro and appointing consultants when that is the position in the former southern health area?

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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It does not change the fact that 107 consultants have been appointed in the cancer services.

Photo of Dan BoyleDan Boyle (Cork South Central, Green Party)
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Not in Cork, Taoiseach.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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I referred to the health services in their entirety. Dr. O'Reilly is not the only consultant dealing with cancer. He is a medical oncologist but there are surgical oncologists, radiographers and clinical oncologists, a number of people working in cancer services. He has a locum since his colleague left to come back to Dublin, which was his wish.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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That is not correct.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy Allen, I will ask you to leave the House if you do not remain quiet.

Photo of Liz McManusLiz McManus (Wicklow, Labour)
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He left in frustration.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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Dr. O'Reilly said the facilities there are inadequate. Nevertheless it is relevant that 107 more people now work in the service in numerous areas, particularly Cork University Hospital where the doctor has complained he does not have all he wishes. We have in recent weeks progressed the development of a €47 million oncology, cardiac and renal centre, which will include a dedicated, bedded oncology ward planned to commence construction next year.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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Next year.

Photo of Jim O'KeeffeJim O'Keeffe (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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That will not be any good to my constituent.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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The money has been allocated. This will be of major assistance to medical oncologists and their colleagues. In addition to 107 new consultants there are 245 more clinical nurse specialists. It is not correct that we are losing nurses, because the rate of turnover of nurses has dropped dramatically in recent times. This service, which people portray as terrible, and I do not portray it as perfect, has seen a reduction in cancer mortality among under-65s by at least 15%, which is a huge figure. Deputy Rabbitte makes a good point about Northern Ireland. Medics there say the reason they have achieved success is they have centralised all their facilities into one unit.

Photo of Liz McManusLiz McManus (Wicklow, Labour)
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It is because they have BreastCheck.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy McManus is not the leader of her party.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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we have centralised——

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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Not in the south where there is a two year waiting list.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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Does Deputy Allen wish to leave the House?

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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No, I do not want to leave the House——

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy will be leaving the House.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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——but there are inaccuracies there——

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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It is not the Deputy's question. He is not the leader of his party. This is a Labour Party question and the Deputy knows he has no right to interrupt.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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People have made the argument at many of the meetings to which Deputy Rabbitte referred that they have brought about a huge improvement in the North by centralising services into one location. Deputies do not want to hear this but precisely that point has been made here for some time, whereas lobby groups argue against it because they want services spread thinly, the opposite to what Deputy Rabbitte correctly said has happened in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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I heard the consultant from Northern Ireland with my own ears last night. He said their superior performance was due to the existence of screening programmes, which do not exist in the health board areas we are talking about.

In his letter published yesterday Dr. O'Reilly said interviews for the post had been held but they failed to fill it because of the conditions. The Taoiseach trots out the line that whoever was there left for a better job. When Dr. Halligan failed to take up the HSE job, the Taoiseach spun the line that he wanted a job in England, which the media faithfully reported. There is only one consultant oncologist in this area. There is no point confusing it with nurses because the number of vacancies in nursing is 1,100 and rising.

Photo of Mary HarneyMary Harney (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Health and Children; Dublin Mid West, Progressive Democrats)
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It is falling.

Photo of Liz McManusLiz McManus (Wicklow, Labour)
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It is rising.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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Dr. O'Reilly writes, and I have no reason to believe he is lying, that the oncology and renal ward to which the Taoiseach refers has been approved but that funding has not been approved. What is the point in saying in the national Parliament that they have approved a dedicated ward for this purpose when no funding has been provided? The post is still vacant and, no matter what the Tánaiste says, there is no funding for the ward.

What will the Tánaiste give back from the capital spend budget this year? The Book of Estimates states it will be €56.4 million. That happens to be 10% and is the figure that can be rolled over. How much will she actually give back? How can she give back that amount of capital moneys when there is such a need in the Cork and Kerry region and for the promised roll-out of BreastCheck? Three years later women in that area do not have access to that essential service, which the same oncologist said has cost 65 deaths in one year in this jurisdiction. I am not suggesting the Taoiseach is any less sensitive to the human tragedies involved than anybody on this side of the House, but he is entirely remote. The Government has learned the mantra about the successful economy — it is a single transferable speech. Every Minister is rolled out on television to relate how successful the economy is and how many billions have been spent. No one has questioned his ability to spend money but it is his ability to waste it and not provide essential services that concerns Members on this side of the House.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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On BreastCheck, this is not the point consultants in the north have been making. They have a good centralised unit. As Deputy Rabbitte and the House knows, BreastCheck is now available in many regions throughout the country and it will be rolled out in full by January 2007. Significant resources have been put into the service, but it will not solve all the problems. One in three people have cancer and BreastCheck will not resolve that. Dedicated units are required, including radiologists and medical and surgical oncologists to provide the service. That is what the Government has been trying to provide. There are 107 more consultants working in the cancer area, who are making a considerable impact.

There are other facilities, including the building of a radiotherapy network to bring the service as close as possible to the people in the regions. People would like the service to be provided throughout the country, but no one else has done that. Since the Tánaiste made her announcement in July, we have increased the number of linear accelerators from four to seven, which will improve greatly access for cancer patients throughout the country. The work which is going on in various parts of the country will help in that regard. Unfortunately, it will not mean that people will not die from cancer. Even with the best cancer services and facilities in the world, people still die from cancer, but we must try to provide as good a service as possible.

Photo of Kathleen LynchKathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)
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We are a long way from that.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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We are a long way from where we were. While expenditure of €12 billion on health services in a country with a population of 4 million is significant, I do not believe the money is wasted. The facilities are improving all the time. New units are being opened and new staff are being employed, which is good. There will always be new inventions to improve the service. Planning is under way for the development of the infrastructure that will roll out BreastCheck.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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That has been going on for six years. A pilot scheme was introduced five years ago.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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BreastCheck was launched in 1999.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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That is six years ago.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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It is six years ago but, unfortunately, one cannot introduce the service today and implement it tomorrow.

(Interruptions).

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy Rabbitte referred to Dr. O'Reilly. I do not know the man and I am not saying he is a liar. I am sure he is working very hard. My information is that the resources in that area have been sanctioned and approved. I will check it out but my information is that the resources have been made available for the €47 million unit.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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If that is true, why did someone not tell the man? He had a meeting with officials after Christmas but he has heard nothing since then.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Taoiseach, without interruption.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy will appreciate that I was not at the meeting.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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I appreciate that, but one would think that the officials in Hawkins House would tell him that if it is true.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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I agree with the Deputy, someone should tell him.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Taoiseach's time has concluded.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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He is working with the management of the hospital, therefore, someone should tell him. The main point is that Dr. O'Reilly said he needs better facilities. I am saying the new unit, including the ten-bed oncology ward, is approved. It is going ahead and will be put in to Cork University Hospital.

Photo of Jim O'KeeffeJim O'Keeffe (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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That is cold comfort for my constituents.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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The Taoiseach was asked a number of questions by Deputy Kenny and Deputy Rabbitte on the injustice and shortcomings in the health service, mainly in Munster, as a result of the letter from Dr. Séamus O'Reilly. As the Taoiseach said, he does not know Dr. O'Reilly, but is it his intention to meet Dr. O'Reilly, given that it is something he asked for explicitly in his letter? He was anxious to explain the reality on the ground, which it is important for the Taoiseach to understand. I would like to know if the Taoiseach will meet Dr. O'Reilly.

Will he answer the question asked in regard to the shortcomings in Munster and not simply say there is a general situation throughout the country? Is it right that there is just one oncologist in the Cork region? Is this acceptable and adequate from the Taoiseach's point of view? Is it right that the one oncologist operates in four hospitals, catering for 500,000 people? Is it right that none of the hospitals has a seven-day inpatient ward? Will the Taoiseach acknowledge the many people who are of the view — I cannot understand why Professor Drumm is not of this view — that there are not sufficient beds? Dr. O'Reilly made it clear that people are dying at home, that they are not able to get a bed even when they are dying. Is it clear that there is a problem with bed numbers, to which there must be a response, and when will that response come?

In regard to BreastCheck, we all know one cannot announce the service today and provide it tomorrow. The Taoiseach knows this is not what the Government proposed.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy's time has concluded.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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The Government was elected on the basis of a promise that BreastCheck would be available countrywide by 2007. Will that promise be fulfilled or will the Taoiseach stand up and say it is one more promise that will be broken?

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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I understand Dr. O'Reilly is a consultant medical oncologist, of whom there were two.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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There is one now.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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Allow the Taoiseach to reply without interruption. The Deputy was allowed to put his question without interruption.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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Two were approved by Comhairle na nOspidéal but one left to take up a post in Dublin.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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He left in frustration.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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A locum consultant oncologist is working with Dr. O'Reilly.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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Is that acceptable?

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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When there is a full-time post, the locum will become a full-time oncologist, but there are still two people employed. The Deputy asked me not to generalise when responding but to stick to Cork, which means I must repeat myself. I said that approval has been secured to proceed to the next phase of the €47 million oncology-cardiac-renal centre which will have a dedicated 30-bed oncology ward. It is planned to commence next year with a ten-bed medical oncology ward.

Photo of Dan BoyleDan Boyle (Cork South Central, Green Party)
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Is the Taoiseach responsible——

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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The BreastCheck programme covers east to west and is being extended to Galway. The Tánaiste and I met some consultants earlier in the year. The service covers approximately half the population. It will be rolled out in the rest of the country between now and the beginning of 2007, which is in 14 or 15 months' time. This progress has been made from a time when there was no BreastCheck service. There are many additional consultants providing a far better cancer service throughout the country now than was ever the case. There are 107 dedicated consultants working in this area at senior level, plus 245 clinical nurses. The units are improving dramatically the cancer services.

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Dublin South East, Green Party)
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Will the Taoiseach fulfil his promise?

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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Under the cancer strategy, €80 million in cumulative additional funding has been made available to the southern region alone, with an additional 11 consultants and support staff being appointed throughout the region. It is a considerable investment and while it will not solve every case, it will go a long way towards improving the service.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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It is important for the Taoiseach to realise that the second oncologist resigned on the basis that the conditions were intolerable. If the remaining oncologist is not to resign, will the Taoiseach meet the man? He is in a desperate situation and wants the Taoiseach to understand what he is going through. Such a meeting would be timely and important. Asking on behalf of the 500,000 people in the region, the Taoiseach mentioned BreastCheck and said it would happen sometime but is it not a serious indictment that planning permission has not even been sought for BreastCheck premises and facilities in Cork? Does that not indicate that heels are being dragged on the matter and that it should be fast-tracked and priority given to it? Will the Taoiseach meet Dr. O'Reilly? Will he ensure planning permission is sought in Cork? Will we get a completion date for the BreastCheck services that are due if the Government promise is to be believed?

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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Dr. O'Reilly is working in Cork. He worked in Waterford until three or four years ago. His colleague in Cork moved to Dublin. I do not know why Dr. O'Reilly moved to Cork.

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Dublin South East, Green Party)
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The Taoiseach could ask him when he meets him.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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I am not going to ask him. I am not going to go around asking 104,000 people in the health service why they moved from one area to another.

Photo of Dan BoyleDan Boyle (Cork South Central, Green Party)
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The Taoiseach is in Cork often enough.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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I presume he left Waterford because there were better facilities in Cork and the other man moved to Dublin because he thought there were better facilities there.

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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Deputy Cullen drove him out of Waterford.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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The Taoiseach knows why the man moved.

5:00 pm

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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Whatever the reason, Dr. O'Reilly is working with a locum in Cork and that post will be filled in due time.

Planning is underway for the development of the remaining half of the country on the infrastructure for the national roll out of BreastCheck. BreastCheck has advertised for the key lead consultant radiologists and radiotherapists for the programme and to recruit other key clinical posts that will commence early in 2006. That will complete the programme. BreastCheck, on its own admission, has stated it can finish this work in 2007. We have provided the resources.

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Dublin South East, Green Party)
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Will the Taoiseach meet Dr. O'Reilly?

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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If Dr. O'Reilly wants to meet me, he could have arranged it easily enough. I am easy enough to meet.

Photo of Kathleen LynchKathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)
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Perhaps he is too busy.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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That is very arrogant of the Taoiseach.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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He will come to meet the Taoiseach.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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I am sure he is too busy, I accept that. There is a locum working in Cork so two consultants are there. They are not the only people, there are 11 consultants in place. We have already improved the new unit and BreastCheck is being rolled out.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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There is a two year waiting list for it.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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Maybe there is——

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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There is, there is no maybe about it.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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——but if we do not put the investment in place——

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Dublin South East, Labour)
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The Government has not put it in place.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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——to undertake the job and if we do not put the consultants in place——

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Dublin South East, Labour)
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The Government has had eight years to do it.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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We hardly had a cancer strategy eight years ago — there was no strategy at all. There were hardly any oncologists so we should not go down that road, it is a stupid argument.

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Dublin South East, Labour)
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Eight years.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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We had not heard of BreastCheck eight years ago.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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That is not true.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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It is obvious to the Chair that Deputy Allen wants to leave the House. He has been warned at least six times and I now ask him to leave the House for being disorderly.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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I do not want to leave the House.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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He wants to stop me saying what is in Cork.

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Dublin South East, Labour)
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What about the waiting lists?

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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I am asking the Deputy to leave not for the issue but because he is being disorderly. The Deputy will leave the House, he was warned at least six or seven times. Deputy Allen has continued to interrupt on all three questions and the Chair has warned him often enough.

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Dublin South East, Green Party)
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The Taoiseach is speaking.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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This is an outrageous carry on. Deputy Allen never even stood up.