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10-10-2000 Taoiseach speaking at the forma launch of the National Breast Screening Programme.


I would like to begin by thanking Breast Check for inviting me here this evening to formally launch the National Breast Screening Programme.

This is an important event and I will ask my colleague Micheál Martin, Minister for Health and Children, to give full details of the National Breast Screening programme. What I do want to say is that this programme is not being launched in isolation; it is not a stand alone initiative. What we are launching today is a forward looking strategy. It is underpinned by significant financial resources and it will make a difference by achieving the highest standards in the care and detection of breast cancer.

As you know from personal experience, within our families or from our friends, breast cancer is one of the most debilitating illnesses for women in Ireland. I recognise too that the trauma and fear which breast cancer brings has been compounded for many women by a belief that the State was not doing enough to help.

I believe we must deal with those realities and make sure that we learn from the mistakes of the past by doing better now. I believe this new Strategy meets that challenge by using new resources to put a new nationwide service in place which will improve detection and recovery from breast cancer.

I believe that resources and reform are keys to a quality health service in Ireland. I want to say that we are politically committed and financially and administratively engaged to overhauling our health service. Our aim is to provide quality care, speedy access and above all early detection of illness. The resources and commitment are there, and will continue to be available, to make a difference. But resources alone are not enough, we know that we need reform and I look to our partners in the Health Service to work with us to build a world class health service for all our people.

Tonight's initiative must be viewed in the context of this Government's investment, and more importantly commitment, to healthcare since coming into office in 1997. It is a well known truism that actions speak louder than words.

In 1997 when this Government came into office, gross expenditure on Health was £2.86 billion, this year it is £4.3 billion - a percentage increase of over 50% in three years. This is a bald statistic, of which I am proud, despite the misgivings of some who take a narrow view of state expenditure.

To make a difference, you need to spend and measure the performance and the results achieved. However that expenditure, as evidenced by this initiative we are launching here today, must be underpinned by sound strategies, clear focus and firm evaluation of outcomes.

Where, one might ask, is all the money being spent. I do not propose to dwell at length on the range of initiatives being put in place but I will briefly mention a few.

The recently launched cardiovascular health strategy, which provides for achieving an integrated approach to the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease will attract £12 million this year.

A plan for the development of renal services is being prepared which will involve an investment of £20 million over the next three years, £6 million of which will be spent this year.

There was an investment of £53 million up to the end of 1999 for persons with intellectual disabilities, with a further investment of £38.7 million in the current year, increasing to £45.7 million in 2001.

I mention these three initiatives to highlight the range, scope and depth of the Government's commitment to tackle the well recognized shortcomings that are evident and are being addressed.

The Government recognizes that, to move forward, the current infrastructure is inadequate for the delivery of a truly modern and efficient service. To address this deficit, and reaffirming this Government's commitment to Healthcare, we included health in the National Development Plan. In the plan, a sum of £2 billion has been made available to develop health facilities to the highest order. This investment will also address geographic imbalances in the health system.

The inclusion of health in the NDP is a statement of priority in its own right and is recognition, for the first time, of the central importance of health facilities in Ireland's social and economic infrastructure. This

£2 billion is almost treble the capital resources provided over the previous seven years.

The first evidence of this funding can be seen in the record capital provision of £231 million in this year's estimates - and I understand that Minister Martin is engaged in robust consultations with Department of Finance on next year's figures.

Of particular importance to tonight's audience is the development of the National Cancer Strategy since March 1997. Since that date, funding of £41 million has been provided to assist with the development of cancer services, including £14 million this year. This has enabled the establishment of new consultant posts in several areas and has greatly improved the quality and level of access to critical services across the country.

Finally, before I hand you over to Minister Martin, I wish to warmly commend the team of dedicated professionals who are engaged in Breast Check. I am confident that you will meet the ambitious goals that have been set and that thanks to your commitment the prospects for the health of Irish women are very good indeed.

Thank you once more for inviting me here tonight.