HSE bonuses would fund vaccination programme, says Reilly

Wed, Nov 12, 2008, 00:00

FINE GAEL health spokesman Dr James Reilly said that the bonuses paid to HSE bosses would fund the administration of the Government's reversed cervical cancer vaccination scheme for young girls.

"It might not pay for the cost of the vaccine, but that can be deferred for a year," he added.

Dr Reilly was moving a Fine Gael motion, in private members' time, calling on the Government to proceed with the scheme.

He said that a similar scheme operated "50 miles up the road in Newry and we cannot have it down here for our children".

Dr Reilly said that the decision not to go ahead with the scheme was "wrong and obnoxious".

He said that over one-third of cancers, requiring treatment, time off work, and causing distress, worry and anxiety, could be averted by the use of the vaccine.

More startling was that, of 200 cervical cancers recorded in 2004, it had been estimated that 111 could have been avoided. Fifty-two of the cervical cancer deaths in the same year could have been avoided by using the vaccine.

"I want to remind the Dáil and the Minister about the programme for Government," he said. "It stated that it would make available as a universal public health entitlement a cervical cancer vaccine once it has been recommended by experts." The national immunisation advisory board were experts and had recommended it.

He said that three months after announcing the scheme, the Minister was trying to tell the Dáil, and the people of Ireland, that she could not find €10 million out of a budget of €16,000 million.

He said he understood that both companies involved were prepared to negotiate on the basis of a deferral of any fees to be paid for the vaccine in the next year.

"So, all that is left then to pay out of your €16,000 million budget is a mere €900,000," said Dr Reilly.

Minister for Health Mary Harney said that a document dealing with the health priorities of Fine Gael and Labour, published in 2007, had not mentioned one word about cancer. Nor had there been any mention of vaccine in Fine Gael's election document.

She said that by the end of this year, 100,000 women would have been screened for cervical cancer.

"Screening has the capacity to reduce cervical cancer by over 80 per cent, in terms of the population, and in an individual case by 95 per cent," she said.

Ms Harney said that she did not need to be convinced about the vaccine. "Unfortunately, we cannot do it this year. And it is not acceptable that the Government could engage with any company on the basis that it would not be paid this year but might next year."

The decision not to proceed was made, she said, in the context of priorities and choices.

Labour health spokeswoman Jan O'Sullivan urged the Minister to find the resources to fund the scheme. "A wide variety of experts, organisations, and people who care about this issue have strongly condemned the decision to put the programme on hold," she said.

Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said that the decision to cancel the vaccination programme arose from an ethos and a policy which put public health in second place to petty book-keeping and a privatisation agenda.