Press Release

Minister Micheál Martin – Statement on Radiation Oncology Services

Responding today to the Alternative Proposal to the Development of Radiation Oncology Services in Ireland Report published by the Opposition, Minister Micheál Martin reiterated Government endorsement and support for the implementation of the Report on the “Development of Radiation Oncology Services in Ireland”.

Commenting, Minister Martin said “The Government has agreed that the first phase of this programme should be the development of a clinical network of large centres in Dublin, Cork and Galway. These centres will collectively have the staff and treatment infrastructure to permit a rapid increase in patient access to appropriate radiation therapy and will form the ´backbone´ of the future service expansion. I agree with the Report´s conclusion that this is the best model to rapidly provide a radiation oncology service and to maintain standards. In addition, the Government has also decided that in the further development of services, consideration will be given to developing satellite centres at Waterford, Limerick and the North-West.

In the short term, I have approved the purchase of two additional linear accelerators for the Cork centre and the necessary capital investment amounting to €4m to commission this service as rapidly as possible. In 2004, €1million on-going revenue funding is being made available for the development of these services at Cork University Hospital. I have now 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”

In relation to the West, the Minister said that he intends to prioritise the necessary resources to ensure that the radiation oncology centre in Galway, which is currently being commissioned, is in a position to treat patients, commencing in Spring 2005. To date €14 million has been invested in the development of radiotherapy services in Galway.

“In 2004, €2.5 million on-going revenue funding is being made available for these services. Last year, I approved the allocation of €200,000 revenue to support the appointment of staff to the key scientific and medical posts that were approved last year in order to commission this unit. 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 given approval to the establishment of a project team to plan this expansion.

We currently have 8 linear accelerators nationally and these developments will provide an additional 5. This is a significant increase that will ensure when fully developed that an additional 2,000 patients are treated per year. Five additional Consultant Radiation Oncologists will be employed in the provision of these service.”

The Minister recently attended the first meeting of the National Radiation Oncology Co-ordinating Group. The Group is the first truly national structure that brings together experts from existing service providers, in Dublin, Cork and the emerging centre in Galway. It also has representatives from other regions that are familiar with the issues and difficulties of access to existing radiation oncology services.

Commenting on the importance of equity in the provision of radiotherapy the Minister said: “Patients of equal need should have equal access to radiotherapy. This is all the more pressing as we do not have adequate radiotherapy provision. Geography will not be a barrier to equal access. I expect the Group to advise and ´equity-proof´ current and emerging services. Pragmatic examination and advice to improve access, transport and accommodation are also within the remit of the Group.”

In conclusion, the Minister said “My Department is now fully focussed on implementing the Report’s recommendations. If we are to provide equitable and high quality services, it is important that we move forward in a sustainable and planned way. This is necessary to achieve high quality radiotherapy services.”