Dáil debates

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

8:00 pm

Photo of Ciarán LynchCiarán Lynch (Cork South Central, Labour)
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I wish to share time with Deputy Kathleen Lynch.

Photo of Jack WallJack Wall (Kildare South, Labour)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Ciarán LynchCiarán Lynch (Cork South Central, Labour)
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Last February, we raised this issue of gynaecological services in Cork. On that occasion, the Minister of State, Deputy Hoctor, was acting on behalf of the Minister, who incidentally is not in the House this evening. She stated in her response that it was planned that some minor surgical procedures would be carried out at the Cork University Hospital on a trial basis on Thursday, 27 March, with the aim of expanding the gynaecology service from the first week in April. She stated the ultimate aim was to have the gynaecological theatre open on a five-day per week basis. She claimed these developments indicated that gynaecological services continued to be improved in Cork University Hospital.

That was three months ago, but no improvement has taken place. Waiting times for Cork women in need of urgent gynaecological investigations are set to remain as health officials continue to renege on promised services and the Minister fails to deliver on her commitment. This is despite the warning from general practitioners in Cork that women's lives are being put at risk by the wholly inadequate gynaecological service based at a maternity facility that cost €75 million.

The doctors, members of the Cork city branch of the Irish College of General Practitioners, have described the situation as a disaster waiting to happen. Cork women over the age of 50 with suspected cancer of the womb have been forced to wait for months for crucial investigations, due to what has been described as underfunding in the service. These are women who could be treated in a morning. Two of the three operating theatres are closed and women with cancer will be told they cannot be examined. This is a diabolical state of affairs. A hospital in which €75 million has been spent on developing state-of-the-art gynaecological facilities has two of these facilities closed. This is because the HSE has failed to put staff in place due to a recruitment embargo by the Minister for Health and Children. I would like the Minister of State to inform the House this evening when the doors to these facilities will open and services will be put in place.

Photo of Kathleen LynchKathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)
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I thank Deputy Ciarán Lynch for sharing time. When this matter was first raised, certain commitments were made. One commitment was that from September 2007 two of these theatres in Cork University Hospital would be opened on a part-time basis, leading in time to full-time occupancy. This has not happened.

There are four operating lists for gynaecology for Cork University Hospital. A list comprises a half-day of operating. Of those four lists, two are taken up by two gynaecologists while ten consultants must compete for time in the other two lists. There is one gynaecologist who specialises in investigation but has a list only every two weeks.

The lives of women diagnosed with cancer are being put at risk. The necessary procedures could be carried out immediately. However, there is no space available at the theatres because the management at Cork University Hospital and HSE South have decided the money is not available to open them. One theatre could be opened for two days a week but this cannot be done because there are not enough staff to carry out the necessary sterilisation procedures for the theatre.

I am sure Deputy Harney is still the Minister for Health and Children, despite the fact we have not seen her for some time. However, she takes no responsibility for this situation. I am not blaming the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Moloney, as he is only here to do a job tonight. Someone, however, must be responsible. This is a disaster waiting to happen. Consultants in Cork University Hospital, dedicated professionals, are in such a plight they are fast becoming disillusioned. We all buy into the notion that more consultants are needed. With no operating theatres and no time available, they can only sit around drinking coffee. If this is what the consultants will have to do, why are we employing more? The Minister is responsible, despite the fact that she wants to keep the health service at arm's length. She will eventually be made to confront the women in Cork whose treatment will be protracted. She is putting women's health and their lives in danger because of these delays. She should face up to her responsibility and deal with the matter.

Photo of John MoloneyJohn Moloney (Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I am taking this matter on behalf of the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, as she is at another engagement. In fairness, last week she spent three hours in the House dealing with the cancer strategy on Private Members' business.

The Government is committed to the provision of high quality gynaecological services across the country, including the Cork region. There are currently five gynaecology theatre slots per week in Cork University Hospital, amounting to the equivalent of two and a half day's service. Approximately 1,152 elective gynaecology procedures were carried out there in 2007. In addition, approximately 17 emergency gynaecological procedures are carried out each month.

There are three operating theatres in Cork University Maternity Hospital, CUMH, one obstetric and two gynaecological theatres. The HSE has indicated that the obstetric theatre is fully staffed and the hospital has recently completed the recruitment process for several senior nursing staff for the gynaecology theatres. In addition, a consultant anaesthetist is being recruited to facilitate the commencement of a gynaecology service in CUMH. In the interim, gynaecology procedures continue to be carried out in Cork University Hospital.

In March 2008 several minor surgical procedures were carried out in Cork University Maternity Hospital, on a trial basis. The ultimate aim is to have the gynaecology service operational on a full five-day per week basis. These developments illustrate that the gynaecological services continue to be improved in Cork University Hospital.

The HSE has designated Cork University Hospital as one of two cancer centres in the managed cancer control network for the HSE South. The decision by the HSE to have four managed cancer control networks and eight cancer centres will be implemented on a managed and phased basis. The delivery of cancer services on a programmatic basis will serve to ensure equity of access to services and equality of patient outcome irrespective of geography. Professor Tom Keane took up his position as interim director of the national cancer control programme in November 2007. Professor Keane will engage in detailed planning to facilitate the progressive, gradual and carefully managed transfer of services between locations over the next two years. A decision on the location of gynaecological cancer services for the HSE South cancer control network will be made by Professor Keane and the national cancer control programme.

The development of cancer services and the continuing emphasis on improving cancer care underline the Government's commitment to providing safe and accessible services for patients in the southern region.