Dáil Éireann - Volume 475 - 18 February, 1997

Written Answers. - Infectious Diseases.

23. Mr. Andrews asked the Minister for Health the talks, if any, he has had with the medical profession on mandatory testing of doctors for infectious diseases; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4355/97]

64. Mr. M. McDowell asked the Minister for Health if he intends to compensate health personnel who are found to be hepatitis B positive as a result of their work; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4324/97]

Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan, Limerick East): I propose to take Questions Nos. 23 and 64 together.

In December of last year I announced to the House the establishment of an expert group to examine the full range of issues surrounding the transmission of infectious diseases in healthcare settings. An earlier group had looked at the problem of hepatitis B and a circular was issued by my Department to all health agencies in December 1996 instructing them to put in place arrangements to establish the immune status of all new health service personnel who were likely to undertake exposure-prone procedures.

In the period which had elapsed since the establishment of the earlier group other issues in this whole area had come to the fore. The policy of not screening existing employees who might be at risk of transmitting infectious diseases had also been raised. I, therefore, decided to establish a new group with comprehensive terms of reference to examine all of the many complex issues which surround the transmission of infectious diseases in health agencies. The group is chaired by a deputy chief medical officer in my Department and I have asked them to report to me by the end of March. The group has already had two meetings and I am confident that they will complete the task assigned to them by the date specified.

The medical profession is fully involved in the group and doctors constitute a majority of the [135] membership. The members of the group were selected for their expertise in the area of infectious diseases. I intend to have full consultation with the medical, nursing and other professions concerned before any of the group's recommendations are implemented. In relation to the circular on screening for hepatitis B I have pointed out previously that the recommendation to introduce this measure came from a group on which the two major medical organisations were well represented.

The issue of compensation for health care workers who test positive for any infectious condition is a complex one. This is being addressed by the expert group and it would be inappropriate for me to make any comment on it in advance of receiving the group's report.