Seanad debates

Wednesday, 21 May 2003

Adjournment Matter. - Neurosurgical Services.

 

10:30 am

Photo of Ulick BurkeUlick Burke (Fine Gael)
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I wish to refer to an usual situation. A former professor of medicine in New York University has offered a very generous grant of $4 million for the provision of a neurosurgical facility at University College Hospital, Galway. The staff at the hospital, however, are growing frustrated that the Minister for Health and Children has not accepted this generous grant to provide the service because there is a review of the neurosurgical needs of the whole State. The Western Health Board, of which I am a member, has requested on numerous occasions that staff and accommodation be provided for the service.

Everybody will appreciate that there are many people who live on the western seaboard for whom this facility will arrive too late. A very active western support group has constantly lobbied for the provision of this service but to no avail. When best practice is mentioned with regard to the provision of health services, it can be clearly seen that any place within the Western Health Board area is two hours from Galway. That is not to mention the distance between many remote locations in this area and Dublin or Cork, where the service in question is currently provided.

The Minister will agree that this is a further indication that the disadvantages endured by the west are being perpetuated by decisions, such as that to which I refer, which will deny this particular service to the many parents in the west who are campaigning for its provision. These people have seen their loved ones, family or children, suffer severely and endure terrible handicaps as a result of very simple falls or accidents. Worse still, they may have witnessed the deaths of people who could not be moved from the western area to Dublin or Cork following serious brain haemorrhages or similar difficulties.

My plea is that the Minister should expedite the review, if that is necessary, or else indicate provisional acceptance to the provider of the offered facility. We take grants similar to this for research and development in education. When people's lives are at stake, I cannot understand why the Minister cannot embrace this generous gift with open arms.

People are putting about a rumour that there must be strings attached. All the necessary assurances that there are no such strings attached to this generous offer have been provided. I beg the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, to intercede with his senior colleague to ensure that approval is sanctioned – as soon as possible and even on a temporary basis – so that this offer can be consolidated for the west, particularly if the funding for the provisional services, space and staff cannot be provided by the Government at present.

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Senator Ulick Burke for raising this important subject on the Adjournment. I am taking this matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin.

I welcome this opportunity to inform the Seanad of the current position with regard to neurosurgical services. Neurosurgery is currently provided at the national centre in Beaumont Hospital and in Cork University Hospital. Comhairle na nOspidéal is a statutory body set up under the Health Act 1970. One of its functions is to advise the Minister for Health and Children on matters relating to the organisation of hospital services and to publish reports relating to such services. Some years ago, Comhairle na nOspidéal examined the organisation of neurosurgical services in Ireland and recommended that these should be concentrated at Beaumont and Cork University Hospital. It also concluded that a unit at Galway was not a viable option at that time.

The western neurosurgery campaign has submitted a proposal for a neurosurgical unit at University College Hospital Galway. The proposal includes a commitment, to which the Senator referred, from the Irish-American friends for the west of Ireland neurosurgery campaign to provide a once-off financial contribution of $1 million and a gamma laser knife machine valued at $3 million. The Minister and officials from the Department of Health and Children have met representatives from the campaign.

It is now over ten years since Comhairle na nOspidéal last undertook a review of neurosurgical services. Given the passage of time, and in light of the commitment in the health strategy quality and fairness review to increase acute hospital capacity, the Minister considered that an up-to-date review of neurosurgical services should be undertaken, focusing, in particular, on issues of capacity and geographic configuration. Comhairle na nOspidéal was asked to carry out such a review and prepare a report for consideration by the Minister. It has also been asked to focus, in particular, on the provision of adequate capacity and consideration of equity of access to neurosurgical services, having regard to best practice in the provision of quality health care Comhairle na nOspidéal established a committee to conduct this review and its work is ongoing.

A preliminary estimate of the projected completion cost of the proposed project, including construction, fees, equipping and other costs, is around €20 million in capital terms. The initial estimate of the running costs of such a unit is around €5 million to €6 million in additional funding per annum. Decisions regarding the further organisation of neurosurgical services will be informed by the Comhairle report.

I understand that representatives of the western neurosurgery campaign met the Comhairle committee to put its case for neurosurgical services to be located in the west. The Minister for Health and Children and I acknowledge the very generous offer from the Irish-American friends of the western neurosurgery campaign.

The Senator will be aware that a major development is underway at University College Hospital Galway, at an estimated cost of some €100 million. It is by some distance the largest ever health care project to be undertaken in the west. This development is due for completion in September and includes an intensive care unit – including cardiac intensive care – a high dependency unit, a burns unit, a coronary care unit, operating theatres – including two cardiac theatres and two orthopaedic theatres – trauma orthopaedic beds, a cardiac surgery ward, an MRI unit, the up-grading of wards on floors two and three of the hospital, a radiotherapy department, an administration and concourse section, medical records, an admissions unit, a medical social work unit and a unit for BreastCheck.

The provision of cardiac surgery, radiotherapy and MRI services will establish University College Hospital Galway as a major centre of excellence in the provision of acute hospital care. A static BreastCheck facility will also be situated at the hospital. Moreover, it will mean that services that have been traditionally concentrated in Dublin will now be available in the west.

The Seanad adjourned at 9.40 p.m. until 10.30a.m. on Thursday, 22 May 2003.