Speech by Minister for Health and Children Mr. Micheál Martin, TD at the Dinner for Annual Conference of the Cystic Fibrosis Association of Ireland, Moran´s Silversprings Hotel, Tivoli, Cork

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to have been invited here today by Ms Ann Aston, Secretary of the Southern Branch of the Cystic Fibrosis Association of Ireland to talk to you, at this, the Dinner for your Association´s Annual Conference.

I am very familiar with the positive role that the Cystic Fibrosis Association of Ireland plays in promoting the interests of Cystic Fibrosis sufferers as well as its important contribution to ensuring the delivery of a quality health service to your members.

At the outset this evening I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate this Government´s commitment to ongoing investment in services for people with physical and sensory disabilities. Since coming into office, additional funding of over €175 million has been provided for the maintenance and development of health services for people with physical and sensory disabilities. In 2002, despite problems in the current economic climate, significant additional funding of almost €40 million has been provided to the sector for this purpose, €30.5 million of which is on-going revenue. This level of funding is indicative of the Government´s commitment to the ongoing development of services to enable people with physical and sensory disabilities to live as independently as possible within the community.

I recently launched the National Physical and Sensory Disability Database, which will facilitate the collection and correlation of reliable information on the service needs of people with physical or sensory disabilities, including people with Cystic Fibrosis. When complete the database will play a vital role in the planning, co-ordination and delivery of health services to people in this sector and its importance cannot be over-emphasised.

Your Association has been actively promoting the need to establish an Irish based Lung Transplant Facility. You will be aware that the Programme for Government, An Action Programme for the Millennium, contains a specific commitment to support the establishment of a heart and lung transplant facility in Ireland and to ensuring that the Programme, when introduced, will be in a position to match the highest international standards in lung transplantation.

The Mater Hospital, Dublin, has been designated as the surgical site for the programme and the provision of a lung transplant unit at the hospital forms part of a major capital development approved for the hospital. In order to progress this project an expert consultative group, chaired by the Eastern Regional Health Authority (ERHA), was established to advise my Department on the various and very complex issues associated with the development of the programme. The report of the consultative group has been completed and is being progressed as a priority by my Department in conjunction with the ERHA and the Mater Hospital. Indeed, my Department had a very positive meeting in recent weeks with representatives from the ERHA and the Mater Hospital in relation to the programme. My Department will continue to liaise with the Association´s Chief Executive, Ciairin de Buis as this project is progressed.

You will appreciate that pending the establishment of the programme an interim solution to facilitate the treatment of Irish patients was required. To address this issue, an agreement was put in place with the Freeman Hospital, Newcastle for the treatment of Irish patients requiring a lung or heart and lung transplant. This contract will continue while the necessary arrangements are being progressed in terms of establishing the programme in Ireland. To date 19 patients from this country received a transplant at the Freeman Hospital under the agreement. It is also important to stress that lungs donated in Ireland have been retrieved by the medical team at Newcastle and have helped to facilitate this additional transplant work at Newcastle for the benefit of Irish patients. Indeed, I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the efforts of everyone involved in developing this important alliance. However, I am also conscious that there are Irish patients who have not been fortunate enough to receive a transplant, a number of whom have died. I am very conscious of this and I want to assure the members of the Association that the establishment of the Irish programme will continue to be progressed as a priority by every one involved. I look forward to the commencement of lung transplantation in this country at the earliest possible date.

Finally, I would like to mention some important work which is being done in the area of screening for Cystic Fibrosis. The Chief Medical Officer in my Department asked Dr Sean O´Denyer, Director of Public Health in the North Western Health Board to look into the issue of introducing a national screening programme for Cystic Fibrosis. Building on Dr Denyer´s recent preliminary work in this area, the Chief Executive Officers of the Health Boards will now be taking the issue forward over the coming months under the aegis of the National Conjoint Child Health Committee, which has been established by the Chief Executive Officer.

In conclusion, I would like to thank you for inviting me here to speak to you this evening and I would like to commend the Association and you, its members, for your commitment and marvellous work over the years and I wish you continued success in the future.

Thank you