Speeches

Speech by Mr Tim O’Malley TD, Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, at the opening of the BioMedica Exhibition and Conference

I am pleased to be here this morning to formally open this BioMedica Conference. I understand that this Conference is the biggest event and gathering in Ireland dedicated to laboratory medicine. Therefore, it is clear how important this Conference is to allow you as delegates to meet your colleagues and discuss scientific, technical and career issues for your professions.

Many of you who work in health care settings are only too well aware of the challenges facing us in the years ahead in the area of health care. The Government has invested very significant resources in health and personal social services in recent years. While there have been marked improvements in the volume, quality and effectiveness of services there is a perception that the extra resources have not delivered a commensurate rate of improvement in services.

Further sustained investment in health and personal social services will be required over the coming years. This must be accompanied by sustained reform in terms of how we do our business. A major challenge is to ensure that we get the best possible services from the existing substantial level of funding that is being provided for the health services.

Health Reform Programme

In order to address and improve the structure, management and delivery of health services the Government has embarked upon a major programme of health reform.

The replacement of the health boards and a number of other bodies with the Health Service Executive (HSE) in January 2005 is designed to leverage improvements in efficiency, consistency, quality and effectiveness. The aim of the reform programme is to provide the best possible service to clients and patients within the resources available and to have equity as a core value in our health service.

The quality of the service provided is as important as value for money but there is no reason we can’t have both. International evidence suggests that good hospital management, for example, usually results in efficient use of resources and high quality patient care.

The importance of the reform process is underlined by the demographic challenge facing the State with;

increased public expectations;

the impact of medical and technological innovations;

and adverse health indicators such as the growth in obesity and alcohol consumption.

All of these factors will generate increasing demands on our health and personal social services.

The previous health board structure developed over many decades and the reform process represents an enormous undertaking. It must be rolled-out while simultaneously maintaining and improving services. There is no denying that difficulties have already arisen and, indeed we can expect that difficulties may continue to arise. However, we have a huge asset in the highly skilled and committed people working in our health service. This is particularly the case with the number of highly trained and skilled medical scientists working to provide high quality diagnostic and laboratory services to patients.

Like many other countries, we face significant challenges in relation to the availability of a sufficient supply of professionally qualified staff. Major proposals for the modernisation of medical education and training have been approved by Government and announced. These are designed to underpin the shift to a consultant delivered service and the resultant required increase in consultant numbers, and to ensure that patients are treated by doctors who have been trained to a uniform high standard.

HIQA

Turning again to the important area of quality, the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) has been established on an interim basis and the necessary legislative foundation is being advanced by the Department of Health and Children. HIQA will be responsible for promoting and implementing quality assurance programmes; overseeing health technology assessments; developing a strong health information evidence base for decision-making; and assessing whether health and personal social services are being managed and delivered to ensure the best possible outcomes within available resources. It will clearly take some time before HIQA becomes a fully effective player in the new health sector architecture. However, HIQA will have a significant role in underpinning quality as an essential component in the delivery of health care.

Health and Social Care Professionals Act 2005

Modernising and strengthening the regulatory framework governing health practitioners to underpin the provision of safe and high-quality services to members of the public is another important element of the reform.

I know that you share my commitment to quality, client and patient centered healthcare. Your commitment has indeed been manifested in the support you have shown for the principles underpinning the Health and Social Care Professionals Act 2005 which provides for the establishment of a system of statutory registration for certain health and social care professionals, including Medical Scientists.

As you know, statutory registration is a system underpinned by law whereby each individual member of a profession may be recognised by a specified body as competent to practice within that profession. As a legally binding process, with a mechanism for the prosecution of offences, it ensures a robust system which serves the dual function of protecting the public while ensuring that the good reputation of a profession is not called into question by the poor practices of an individual member.

Quality and accountability are of course fundamental to the core principles of the Health Strategy and ensuring the delivery of the best possible service to patients and service users. Service users need to be assured that the service providers meet accepted standards and that there is a forum to bring justified complaints that will deal fairly with those complaints.

As you may already know, the Health and Social Care Professionals Act was passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas at the end of last year and the Department of Health and Children is currently working on the implementation of the legislation. Some of you will be aware of the structures set out in the Act which provides for the establishment of a registration board for each of the professions to be registered, a Health and Social Care Professionals Council with overall responsibility for the regulatory system and a committee structure to deal with disciplinary matters. The system will be administered by a Chief Executive Officer and staff.

While I would not like to pre-empt any decision which may be made in this regard, it is likely that the first step in the implementation of the legislation is the appointment of the chairperson of the Health and Social Care Professionals Council, followed by the appointment of other Council members and then the members of each of the registration boards. It is very difficult to predict a timeframe for the implementation of the Act but I imagine that it will take the best part of this year to appoint the members of the Council and to start on appointing members of each registration board.

I think that everyone here will know that the new Act has had a long gestation time and that its passing last year represents a successful outcome to many years of work. I would like to thank you for your support and input into the legislation over that time and I look forward to your continued support as the legislation is implemented.

Conclusion

I wish to thank the Academy of Medical Laboratory Medicine for organising this event and particularly I would like to thank the President of the AMLS, Ms Jacqui Barry O’Crowley, for inviting me to open the Conference and allowing me an opportunity to address you. I would like to wish you a successful and enjoyable conference.

Thank You.