Radiotherapy Services

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 205 No. 6

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Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill: Information on Brian Ó Domhnaill Zoom on Brian Ó Domhnaill The issue to which I refer relates to the proposed radiotherapy centre at Altnagelvin, County Derry, in which services for the people of the north west will be provided. The proposed project is being undertaken on foot of discussions between the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, and her counterpart in the North, the Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety, Mr. Michael McGimpsey, MLA, and following the exertion of pressure by community groups and two cancer support groups in County Donegal to highlight the need for such a centre in the north west.

The background to the project has been highlighted in detail in the past. Patients in the north west who are suffering from cancer and require radiotherapy or chemotherapy are obliged to travel to University College Hospital in Galway and to Dublin in order to avail of the relevant services. It is unacceptable that sick people from north-west Donegal, particularly Inishowen, are obliged to make round trips of at least 400 miles in order to receive treatment in Dublin.

A service level agreement was established as part of the national cancer care programme, NCCP, which led to patients from County Donegal being able to avail of services at Belfast City Hospital. However, this has proved to be neither workable nor realistic, particularly in the light of the difficulties in travelling to and from Belfast and a host of other factors. I am delighted that a further service level agreement has been reached by the Ministers, North and [401]South, and that it is proposed to develop a new centre at Altnagelvin which will service the north west.

Representatives of the cancer support group Co-operation for Cancer Care NorthWest met the Minister for Health and Children last week. In the light of the fiscal and budgetary circumstances in the Republic and the North, I am interested in discovering whether plans to build the new centre by 2015 remain on course. According to the business case made for the centre, provision has been made for one third — 400 — of its patients to come from County Donegal. Will the Minister indicate whether we remain on target to meet the 2015 timeframe, what the next step in the process will be, what the current position on the North-South co-operation aspect is and whether tenders for the project will be sought in the near future?

Deputy Pat Carey: Information on Pat Carey Zoom on Pat Carey I am taking this matter on behalf of the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney.

I welcome the opportunity to set out the current position on the proposed radiotherapy centre at Altnagelvin and radiotherapy services nationally. On average, approximately 23,000 new cases of invasive cancer, including non-melanoma skin cancer, are diagnosed each year. Current trends indicate that the number of cancers diagnosed annually is likely to double in the next 20 years. It is against this background that the HSE’s national cancer control programme, NCCP, is being implemented. The goals of the programme are better cancer prevention, detection and survival rates through a national service based on evidence and best practice. Part of the programme is implementation of the national plan for radiation oncology, NPRO, originally agreed by the Government in July 2005.

The NPRO will provide the national infrastructure for radiation oncology for the next 25 years approximately. Phase 1 involves the construction of new facilities at Beaumont and St James’s Hospitals, with four linear accelerators in each. The new centres will be completed by the end of the year, at which time some staff and resources from St. Luke’s Hospital will transfer to them. The two new facilities and St. Luke’s Hospital will then form the St. Luke’s radiation oncology network for Dublin mid-Leinster and Dublin north east. It will provide adequate capacity to deal with patient needs until at least 2015.

Phase 2 of the NPRO will provide additional radiation oncology capacity at St. James’s and Beaumont Hospitals, Cork University Hospital and Galway University Hospital, with satellite centres at Limerick Regional and Waterford Regional Hospitals. It is recognised, however, that for patients in the north west there are particular geographic concerns which must be addressed. For this reason, the Government also decided in July 2005 that the best way to improve geographical access to radiation oncology services for patients in the north west was through North-South co-operation. It was decided, therefore, to facilitate access to Belfast City Hospital for patients in need of radiation oncology treatment. A service level agreement has been in place with Belfast City Hospital for the provision of radiation oncology services for patients from County Donegal since 2006.

The Government also decided that it would progress the consideration of a joint venture between North and South for the provision of services from a satellite centre in the north west that would be linked with Belfast City Hospital. In 2008 Northern Ireland’s Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety, Mr. Michael McGimpsey, MLA, announced that a new satellite radiotherapy centre linked with Belfast City Hospital would be established at Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry as part of Northern Ireland’s plans for the provision of radiotherapy services beyond 2015. At the time the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, agreed to fully explore the opportunity presented for further collaboration in the delivery of these [402]services. The business case for the development at Altnagelvin has been finalised and is awaiting approval by Minister McGimpsey. The Minister for Health and Children has committed to providing a capital contribution for the project in recognition of the fact that approximately one third of the patients who will attend the Altnagelvin centre will be from County Donegal and surrounding areas. In addition, the NCCP will contribute on an agreed basis to the operating costs in respect of patients from the Republic of Ireland who attend the service.

The Department of Health and Children and the NCCP have nominated representatives to the various sub-groups overseeing the development of the project. The NCCP advises that the discussion of patient pathways will include an input from clinicians at Letterkenny General Hospital and St. Luke’s Hospital currently involved in the delivery of radiotherapy services to patients in Letterkenny.

The Minister for Health and Children is committed to the development of the radiotherapy centre at Altnagelvin and radiotherapy services nationally. Approximately half of cancer patients will require radiotherapy at some point in their illness and the aim is to ensure the best outcome for these patients, regardless of location.

The Seanad adjourned at 6.40 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 3 November 2010.

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