Address by Mr. Micheál Martin T. D., Minister for Health and Children at the opening of the Centre of Excellence for Symptomatic Breast Disease & MRI

Good Afternoon Ladies and Gentleman

It gives me great pleasure to join you here this afternoon to officially open two new important developments in the hospital, the Centre of Excellence for Symptomatic Breast Disease and the new MRI unit. I would like to thank you for inviting me to perform this task and I am most appreciative of the significant endeavours by all those associated with these units. These developments in Waterford Regional Hospital reflect the commitment of the Government the Board and the hospital to providing quality healthcare.

I understand that a very special exhibition of art entitled “A Picture of Health” will be on show at the hospital in the coming weeks. This exhibition consists of paintings and drawings by the artist Susan McFarlane which depict the various stages of breast cancer from diagnosis through to recovery.

The Exhibition was commissioned by retired Histopathologist Dr. Farrer Browne and has toured over 70 venues in the United Kingdom. Waterford Healing Arts Trust plans to bring the Exhibition here to Waterford at the end of this month. Its main aim is to promote greater awareness and understanding of breast cancer. It is a powerful and emotive testimony to the work of medical, nursing and paramedical staff in the management of breast cancer.

I understand that the Exhibition will be on view here in Waterford Regional Hospital until the end of March. It is envisaged that it will link closely with the work of the breast care unit and be used as an educational tool for all members of staff, as well as the general public. It is fitting that this exhibition should coincide with the opening of the breast care unit in the hospital and I regret that I am not in a position to launch this exhibition today.

This Breast Care unit has been developed as a result of recommendations made in the Report of the Sub-Group of the National Cancer Forum on the Development for Services for Symptomatic Breast Disease.

The report contains recommendations for the establishment of a network of Specialist Breast Units throughout the country, and the appropriate infrastructure, personnel and equipment which is needed for such specialist units. The report also makes recommendations regarding the siting of such units in each health board area.

The report recommends that Specialist Breast Units should be based on a population of 250,000 to 300,000 from which it is expected that there will be a minimum of 100 new primary breast cancers per annum. The modern management of breast cancer entails triple assessment, which involves the Surgeon, Pathologist and Radiologist working as an integrated team. It reduces the number of unnecessary operations performed for benign and malignant disease and facilitates rapid diagnosis and better planning of treatment.

These services are further developed by the opening of a new MRI machine in the hospital. Magnetic Resonance Imaging is an expanding dynamic field used in the diagnosis of many illnesses, particularly neurological, musculo-skeletal and spinal injuries. It is of major benefit to patients in that MRI is a non-invasive diagnostic procedure.

New state of the art CT scanning facilities are now also available at the hospitals in Waterford, Wexford and Kilkenny and a new service for South Tipperary will commence later this year. This new MRI centre will further enhance the diagnostic facilities available to patients in this region. It will also enable the Radiologists at the hospital to provide the full and comprehensive service which a regional acute hospital is expected to provide. It is estimated that in excess of three thousand scans will be provided here each year. I wish to acknowledge the focused ambition of Dr. Donny Ormond, lead Consultant Radiologist here in Waterford, in developing Radiology services here in the hospital.

This development represents an investment of €2 million in the hospital. I wish at this point to acknowledge the contribution made by the Trustees of the Board of the City and County Infirmary who provided almost €1 million towards the cost of the MRI equipment. This is an indication of the continued commitment of this group to the developments here at Waterford Hospital and it is an example of how community and statutory bodies can productively work together to provide quality services for people in their locality.

The new unit, which I am officially opening here today, marks another step in the ongoing programme of improvements at the hospital. As you will be aware the Government is committed to the increase in bed capacity in the acute hospital system and has put in place funding for the provision of an additional 709 acute hospital beds throughout the regions. In the South Eastern Health Board region I have provided €12m revenue funding and€2.2m capital funding to allow the board to commission an additional 76 acute hospital beds in the region.

As part of this provision I provided over €3m to allow Waterford Regional Hospital provide for a new 12 bed Medical Admissions Unit and to fund the operation of a 30 bed Medical Ward at the hospital. This Medical Admissions Unit provides an effective screening process and ensures that appropriate admissions are made thereby reducing pressure on in-patient beds and on Accident and Emergency services. The Medical Ward provided extra capacity to meet the increasing demands here at the hospital.

The waiting list initiative continues to provide for treatment of people on public waiting lists. Nationally this has stood at€44m for the past number of years. In 2002 I provided total funding, under this initiative, of €3.53m to the South Eastern Health Board. This year as a first tranche of allocations under the waiting list initiative I have provided €3.3m to continue the provision of treatments to those on public waiting lists.

In addition to the waiting list initiative the Government initiated the National Treatment Purchase Fund to provide for the treatment of those waiting longest on public waiting lists. Treatment is provided in private facilities or abroad where there is identified spare capacity to do so.

The programme started last year and I understand that 139 people from the South Eastern Health Board region have received treatment up to the end of January this year. This programme will continue to provide for the treatment of people from the region throughout the remainder of the year.

Additional consultants have been approved and are being appointed to Waterford Regional Hospital . These include:

  • A second Consultant Rheumatologist
  • A Consultant Physician in Endocrinology
  • A Consultant Physician in Geriatric Medicine and
  • 3 Accident and Emergency Consultants

To date, a total of 8 Consultant appointments have been made to the South Eastern Health Board under the National Cancer Strategy and my Department recently granted approval for a 3rd Consultant Oncologist who will be appointed here at Waterford Regional Hospital. I wish to congratulate the Board as it is the only Regional Health Board with three Medical Oncologist posts. This reflects the major commitment of the Board and its staff to the proactive development of cancer service.

Capital investment in the health services continues at a level above and beyond what was envisaged when this Government came into office back in 1997. €4m capital funding has been invested in Waterford Regional Hospital over the past 3 years.

Plans for the further development of Waterford Regional Hospital have been prepared and I understand that priority areas for development are included as part of the South Eastern Health Board’s National Development Programme. A Brief is with the Department and officials of the Board and my Department will be discussing the details of the priority areas for development over the coming months.

I wish to return to the opening of the new Breast Care unit and to mention the overall development of cancer services. This Government is committed to the further development of quality cancer services at a national level. In recent years, this commitment has been reflected in the increased level of investment provided.

The cumulative additional investment in cancer services since 1997 is in excess of €400million, well in excess of the£25million initially envisaged in 1996 to implement the National Cancer Strategy.

This investment has enabled the funding of 80 additional Consultant posts in key areas such as Medical Oncology, Radiology, Palliative Care, Histopathology, and Haematology, together with support staff throughout the country.

An additional sum of €29m has been allocated in 2003 for cancer services. Indeed, since the implementation of the National Cancer Strategy, over €11m of dedicated funding has been allocated to the South Eastern Health Board, specifically for the development of oncology and related services. This funding is inclusive of the 2003 South Eastern Health Board allocation of nearly €2.8m and will ensure that this year we continue to address increasing demands for cancer treatments in such areas as oncology/haematology services, oncology drug treatments and symptomatic breast disease services. I recognise the key contribution of Mr. Gordon Watson, Regional Director of Cancer Services in the development of cancer services for the region.

I am also pleased to say that under the Ireland-Northern Ireland-National Cancer Institute Cancer Consortium, a research programme has been launched which will allow hospitals throughout Ireland to participate in high quality clinical trials of new therapies for cancer, helping to ensure that new and effective treatments are made available more quickly.

The prestigious National Cancer Institute in the US provides access to cutting edge research, prestigious clinical expertise and innovative technologies. Our cancer services and cancer patients are the principal beneficiaries.

I have invested significant resources in the programme in order to establish an effective infrastructure for cancer clinical trials. To date, awards to the value of €3.5m have been made available through the Health Research Board to allow hospitals, including Waterford Regional Hospital, to recruit and train staff, improve facilities and take part in world class clinical trials.

While it is important to reflect on the progress made to date in the fight against cancer, it is also necessary to look to the future. With this in mind, I would like to draw your attention to the work of the National Cancer Forum which, under the chairmanship of Professor Paul Redmond, is currently developing a new cancer strategy in conjunction with my Department.

The National Cancer Strategy 2003 will set out the key areas to be targeted for investment over the coming years. As part of this work, the existing Strategy is being evaluated to assess its success and the gaps in cancer services, which now need to be prioritised.

The Forum has consulted with all Health Boards, including the South Eastern Health Board, as well as professional bodies, voluntary agencies and other stakeholders as part of this process.

Patients and patient advocate groups have been asked to assist in the development of this cancer strategy which will set out the key areas to be targeted for the development of cancer services over the coming years.

The development which I have outlined here today describe an overall framework through which cancer services can be developed and provided in the most co-ordinated and effective manner. While meeting the challenge of creating world class cancer services in our country will not be easy. But I believe we have every reason today to be optimistic about the future.

In conclusion, I would like to pay tribute to the magnificent efforts of the staff here at Waterford Regional Hospital and to praise your dedication to your patients. This dedication, I´m sure, has been and should continue to be a source of great pride to you.

Thank you once again for giving me this opportunity to official open these developments which I know will greatly assist you in your work.