Address by Micheál Martin TD, Minister for Health and Children at launch of the All Ireland Cancer Statistics Report at Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin

Minister de Brún, Dr Klausner, Ladies and Gentlemen

It is a great pleasure for me to be here today to launch along with Minister de Brún, this first historic joint report of the incidence of mortality from cancer for the island of Ireland.

This report is a very tangible, major product of the memorandum of understanding between the two Departments of Health on this island and the National Cancer Institute of the United States which was signed at a ceremony in Stormont Castle in October, 1999. This recognised the significant scope for co-operation and mutual exchange of information between the three jurisdictions and put the partnership between our respective cancer communities on a more formal and explicit footing. The memorandum identified three major areas for development.

First, it sought to enhance the capacities of both cancer registries, north and south, particularly with a view to the production and presentation of cancer information on an all-Ireland basis. Where there had been much co-operation between the registries for a number of years, the signing of the memorandum gave an extra impetus to this work and has led to the publication of today’s report. I look forward to the publication of many more such joint reports in the future and I am confident that the information provided will provide a sound and sustainable basis for the future development of cancer prevention and treatment strategies right throughout Ireland.

The second area identified for co-operation was that of clinical trials. As in all areas of medical practice, cancer treatment must be informed by sound, well-structured international research. Such research will have the objective of identifying at the earliest opportunity, new drugs and innovative combinations of drugs and other treatments which will enhance patients’ treatment and therefore their quality of life. Another objective of this part of the initiative is to enhance the capacity of hospitals within Ireland to avail of such research opportunities in conjunction with the National Cancer Institute. We look forward over the next number of years to substantial progress in this complex and difficult, but ultimately indispensable, element of cancer research and treatment.

The third area identified for co-operation was that of training and scholar exchange programmes. Ireland has had a long and productive association with professional, training and education institutions in the United States particularly in the medical and nursing areas, including the area of cancer treatment and research. Many of our most eminent cancer practitioners have had extensive training in the United States and have returned home to Ireland to take up posts in the various sub-disciplines of cancer. The provision in the memorandum of understanding for training and education programmes and for exchange of scholars offered very useful scope for cancer practitioners to continue upgrading their knowledge and experience. It was anticipated that the programmes could be of variable duration, offering flexible means for cancer practitioners to keep up to date with the latest developments in their area of interest. Among the tangible outcomes from this aspect of the agreement has been the announcement of two to three year fellowships in cancer epidemiology and population studies including one year spent in the NCI. Two fellowships have been awarded from the field of 40 applicants. In addition, a number of training opportunities in the areas of cancer prevention have been identified. There are plans for the preparation of short and long term training programmes in nursing and medical oncology which it is hoped will be announced later this year.

Research has been given a particular impetus by the implementation of the memorandum of understanding. It is worth remembering also that co-operation is continuing in a number of other areas such as health promotion, medical technology assessment, accident and emergency services and emergency planning. All these initiatives are evidence of the increasing interest in and understanding of the benefits of co-operation for public health. In the context of this cancer report, for instance, combining the data of both sets of registries allows us to identify where similar patterns exist and where differences may occur. Such comparisons and contrasts are important in providing a significant basis for developing research which would help our understanding of the causes of cancer.

We need to identify factors that will improve survival. We need to assist in the planning and establishment of screening services. We also need to improve the quality of services for treatment and care which, of course, will ultimately lead to a reduction in the incidence of and mortality from cancer. It is in this context that I wholeheartedly welcome the publication of this report and I look forward to the publication of many such reports in the future.

I welcome Minister de Brún and her officials from Belfast and Dr Richard Klausner and his colleagues from the National Cancer Institution in the United States, and I commend everyone involved for their persistence in seeing it through to this point and for their willingness to continue this collaboration into the future.

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