Speech by Minister of State Tim O’Malley TD at the Fifth Irish Healthcare Pharmaceutical Awards – sponsored by Medical Publications Ireland

I am very pleased to be here at the fifth Irish Healthcare Pharmaceutical Awards. The awards were conceived as a means of recognising excellence in the fields of education, pharmaceutical innovation, healthcare collaboration, and patient support. The awards recognise that healthcare is becoming increasingly more complex and diverse and I note that among tonight’s entries there are projects from individual doctors, the Royal College of Surgeons and the Health Service Executive as well as from the pharmaceutical industry.

The development of a strong and vibrant worldwide pharmaceutical industry has been of enormous importance globally. For healthcare systems, the development and provision of high quality medicinal products has saved lives, improved life expectancy and enhanced the quality of life for so many people. The debilitating effects of conditions such as asthma, diabetes, ulcers, cancer and mental illness have been alleviated by the tremendous advances which have been made in the area of medicines. Modern medicines have saved many lives and helped to improve life expectancy by almost a third in the last seventy years. We can, I believe, also have high expectations for the many new medicinal products currently being developed. These products have enormous potential to save yet more lives and reduce suffering. The work currently under way in areas such as genetic research will, we hope, help with identifying treatments for conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease.

But the contribution made by the pharmaceutical industry is not confined solely to the area of healthcare. Here in Ireland this sector is of major importance to the economy, with current annual exports of around € 14 billion and with over 24,000 people employed in the industry.

This is a time of significant developments for the industry. The implementation of revised and updated pharmaceutical legislation, as well as new proposals in the areas of paediatric medicines, advanced therapies and medical devices, should provide many benefits for patients, healthcare systems, Governments, and the pharmaceutical industry. The recent conclusion of successful negotiations with the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association for the supply of medicines to the health services is expected to achieve savings of €300m by 2010.

With regard to the health service in general, I am pleased to be able to say that considerable progress has been achieved. Over 45,000 patients have been treated under the National Treatment Purchase Fund. Between 2002 and 2005 there has been an increase of over 13.5 % in the number of people treated in our public hospitals. An additional 59,000 more people have medical cards than in January 2005 and 29,175 have GP Visit Cards.

A & E services are improving around the country. Compared to this time last year, the average number of patients in A & E departments awaiting admission is down by approximately 40%. The average time that patients spend waiting for admission has also been reduced. In order to achieve the targets and objectives of the Health Service Executive’s A&E Initiative, particularly over the critical winter months, all actions and measures are being encompassed into a single, co-ordinated endeavour, with a cross-pillar executive lead. The HSE has introduced a broad-based Winter Initiative which, among other issues, will focus on strengthening the co-ordination between hospitals and community services in the delivery of health care.

The Inter-Departmental Group on Long-Term Care reported to Government, and Government agreed on a number of principles that are reflected in the new social partnership agreement “Towards 2016”. On foot of this, critical work is ongoing in relation to preparing proposals for a new policy on long term care, based on the principles endorsed by Government and the social partners. The aim will be to achieve an equitable, balanced scheme, both for residential and community care, and for both public and private provision, and it is hoped to bring proposals in this regard to Cabinet soon.

A number of plans for the development of health care services have been published during 2006 such as the new Mental Health Strategy (‘A Vision for Change’) in January last, the Strategy for Cancer Control 2006 in June and the Health Sectoral Plan under the Disability Act 2005 in July.

In relation to primary care, arrangements are underway to recruit around 300 health professionals to support the establishment of additional Primary Care Teams in development. The HSE reports that good progress is being made.

My Department has a major legislative programme dealing with very many complex issues. Among the key pieces of legislation to be published in this Dáil session will be the Medical Practitioners Bill, the Health Bill 2006 and the Pharmacy Bill. Other initiatives will be proceeding in the coming months include the introduction of mental health tribunals and the establishment of a National Cancer Screening Agency.

All of these activities are being undertaken in order to provide better services to the public on a sustained basis and we look forward to making progress on this full and challenging agenda. We look forward to the continuing involvement of the pharmaceutical industry in this important work.