Speech by Mr Micheál Martin, T.D., Minister for Health and Children, at the opening of the Cancer Molecular Diagnostics Laboratory and the Acute Medical Admissions Unit at St. James´ Hospital


Ladies and Gentlemen,

May I first of all say that I am delighted to be here today in St James´s Hospital to officially open the new Cancer Molecular Diagnostics Laboratory and the Acute Medical Admissions Unit. I would like to thank the hospital for extending the invitation for me to do so.

Cancer Molecular Diagnostics Laboratory

The last decade has seen an accelerating rate of progress in the use of molecular biology in clinical medicine, giving rise to a new area of Molecular Medicine. Molecular Medicine involves the study of the cells and genes of the body and the application of this knowledge to improve diagnosis and treatment of patients.

Cancer Molecular Diagnostics is a dramatic new weapon in our continuing fight against cancer, which is one of the three major causes of premature death in this country. The National Cancer Strategy acknowledged that the effective management of cancer requires a fuller understanding of its causes, better approaches to its management, a clearer definition of the efficacy of various modalities and interventions and multi-disciplinary co-ordination.

There has been a major effort to address these issues in this country in recent years. The steady advances that have been achieved have flowed from research in the areas of epidemiology, screening and prevention, clinical trials and now, more recently in cell and molecular biology. These efforts must continue if Ireland is to maintain progress in this field. Basic science research has been a major activity in Ireland, particularly in cell and molecular biology, and much of the funding provided by a range of key bodies, including the Health Research Board has been devoted to it.

Recently there has been an effort to achieve a greater balance between laboratory and clinical research, and to promote better understanding between the two fields. It is hoped that these efforts will help to translate the benefits and lessons learned in the laboratory in a more efficient way to the patient.

Additional funding has been made available for the implementation of the Health Research Strategy Making Knowledge Work For Health which was launched in September last. The annual revenue contribution from my Department to the Health Research Board was increased this year to approximately €20 million, an increase of 15% on the 2002 figure.

At a national level, this Government is committed to the further development of quality cancer services. The cumulative additional investment in cancer services since 1997 is greater than€400million, well in excess of the £25million initially envisaged in 1996 to implement the National Cancer Strategy.

This 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 to address the increasing demands for cancer treatments in such areas as oncology/haematology services, oncology drug treatments and symptomatic breast disease services.

Last November, I had the pleasure of officially launching the new Clinical Trials Office in St. James´s. The office, while based in St. James´s Hospital, was established in conjunction with St. Luke´s Hospital, the Coombe Womens´ Hospital, Our Lady´s Hospital for Sick Children and the Midland Health Board to secure funding for cancer clinical trials under the Ireland-Northern Ireland-National Cancer Institute Cancer Consortium.

Clinical trials are a means by which high standards of care can be maintained and the mechanism by which new compounds, drugs and treatments are first used to treat patients. Through clinical trial programmes, Irish patients can have quick access to new treatments and so receive optimum treatment. My Department has demonstrated its support by investing significant resources in this trilateral programme. Awards to the value of €3.5 million have been made available to date to allow hospitals to recruit and train staff, improve facilities and take part in world class clinical trials.

As part of the implementation of the National Health Strategy, a new blueprint for the future development of cancer services is being prepared. The National Cancer Forum is currently developing the National Cancer Strategy 2003. The existing Strategy is being evaluated to assess its success and to identify gaps in cancer services that now need to be prioritised. The Forum members are consulting with Directors of Cancer Services, clinical experts, nursing and management, patients and patient advocate groups as well as professional bodies in relation to the development of a strategy for the development of cancer services over coming years.

Acute Medical Admission Unit (AMAU)

I have also been asked to officially open the new Acute Medical Admission Unit. This is aimed at enhancing the service the hospital provides to acute medical patients. It is a high intensity unit, fitted out to receive acutely ill medical patients from the emergency department 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The primary aim of the unit is to proactively facilitate early diagnosis, treatment and discharge of acute medical patients admitted through the Emergency Department. It will facilitate high quality care for acutely ill patients and the aim will be to discharge patients in less than 5 days. Any patient with a longer anticipated length of stay or requiring specialist care will be transferred to an appropriate ward.

The new Unit has been operational for almost two months and I understand that there is already a clear indication that it is having a positive impact. Given the significant pressure on Accident and Emergency (A&E) Departments, it is encouraging to learn that this initiative has contributed to a noticeable improvement in the operation of the Emergency Department here at St James´s.

It is clear that the traditional dependence on emergency departments to control admissions into hospital needs to be reviewed, and that there needs to be innovation in relation to how patients requirements are catered for.

In this regard, Comhairle na nOspideal is currently examining the role, organisation and staffing of acute medical admissions/medical assessment/medical day units and other similar initiatives which are taking place in hospitals around the country. I look forward to receiving the Comhairle report which I believe will help us to further improve our arrangements for caring for acutely ill medical patients.

This new Acute Medical Assessment Unit contains 59 of the 74 additional beds commissioned at St James´s Hospital with the support of the ERHA and my Department under the Bed Capacity initiative. The establishment of this new unit and the cancer laboratory represent tangible evidence of our commitment to developing the capacity of the hospital to respond to ever increasing service pressures.

It now gives me very great pleasure to declare these new facilities officially open.

Thank you