Dáil Éireann - Volume 530 - 20 February, 2001

Written Answers. - Blood Transfusion Service.

257. Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Health and Children the steps he has taken to resolve the situation regarding the downgrading of the Cork Blood Transfusion Service Centre since he met a delegation from the Southern Health Board in January 2001. [4771/01]

[1380] 258. Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Health and Children the situation regarding blood testing at the Cork Blood Transfusion Service Centre; and if he will intervene in the situation where the Irish Blood Transfusion Service is effectively downgrading the Cork unit. [4772/01]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Martin): I propose to take Questions Nos. 257 and 258 together.

As the Deputy is aware, considerable investment has taken place in the Cork centre. My Department made available capital grants of more than £500,000 to complete the following works: a new components processing laboratory; a new product storage area; an upgrade of the donor clinic and new office accommodation. Furthermore, the board of the IBTS, at its meeting in January, approved a draft planning brief for a new transfusion centre in Cork for submission to my Department. My Department will reply to this request shortly with a view to providing a new state of the art facility as a matter of priority. A new IT system will be operational shortly, which is the world leader in systems for transfusion centres. The staff of the Cork centre have taken the lead role in the implementation of this key project. Additional IT and quality assurance staff have been appointed. A second consultant haematology post has been approved, and funding has been made available for this appointment.

On 5 February 2001, I announced the issue of A Guideline for the Transfusion of Red Blood Cells in Surgical Patients which has been produced by the national blood users group. The membership of this group, established by my predecessor, comprises blood user experts from hospitals nationally. The guideline states that the use of proven strategies that reduce exposure to donated blood should be made widely available and applied where appropriate. Such strategies include autologous transfusion techniques and surgical, anaesthetic and pharmacological approaches that reduce blood loss. My Department is currently making this guideline available to all hospitals, general practitioners and medical schools. A special board meeting of the IBTS is scheduled for 28 February 2001 to consider further strategies to address the concerns of the possible transmission of variant CJD – vCJD – by blood transfusion. These strategies include: deferral of some donors; replacement of products currently manufactured by the IBTS, including red cells, by products sourced in BSE-free countries; and optimal use of blood components. These developments will have major repercussions for the core business of the IBTS.

As well as the meeting with representatives of the Southern Health Board, to which the Deputy has referred, I have also met other groups involved in the health services and listened carefully to their views. The IBTS operates in a fast moving and challenging area of the health system in which there is a full and demanding role for the board, management and the entire staff of the [1381] organisation at all levels. There is a responsibility on all concerned to resolve the difficulties which exist between the Cork centre of the IBTS and its national headquarters to ensure a truly national service and to progress with its core business of developing best transfusion practice for the future. Recent public disagreements between the IBTS and the Southern Health Board are not conducive to the effective co-operation and partnership between complementary organisations which is to be expected and which prevails generally in the health system. This is all the more regrettable at present when the energies of the IBTS and hospitals generally should be focused on developing best transfusion practice, including important strategies to address the possible risk of the transmission of the vCJD by blood transfusion. I understand that the board, at its meeting in January, decided to engage external human resource expertise to assist in achieving a resolution of current problems and establish an improved platform on which to move forward. I welcome this initiative and would urge staff to fully engage in this process.