MEMBERS of ethnic minority groups are a "growing reservoir" for tuberculosis (TB), a senior HSE official has said.
The lack of facilities for TB sufferers here has been highlighted -- with figures showing 500 cases are being treated by doctors each year.
HSE assistant national director Dr Kevin Kelleher has admitted the health system does not provide adequate services to TB sufferers.
In a private response to Labour TD Tommy Broughan, Dr Kelleher describes members of ethnic minorities as a "growing reservoir of TB infection in Ireland".
According to the HSE chief, sufferers have "no access to a tuberculosis sanatorium service" and that there are "no community TB workers in Ireland".
In Tallaght Hospital for example, special efforts have to be made to treat a TB patient, due to the lack of dedicated inpatient beds.
"If a patient with tuberculosis requires admission to Tallaght Hospital, every effort is made, pending availability and in conjunction with infection control, to isolate and treat them in a single room on a general medical ward," the document states.
TB is a serious respiratory disease and is caused by bacteria that is passed by droplet infection, for example, breathing in droplets sneezed or coughed by someone with TB.
It is highly infectious and those who suffer from it often spend months in isolation.
But it is the lack of dedicated facilities and services that has caused significant alarm today.
"There is limited/no access to a directly observed TB therapy programme in Ireland (DOT). This is crucial for patients who are at risk of re-activation and infecting other people," Dr Kelleher said.
"There are no community TB workers in Ireland and these are very important -- pivotal for the management of TB infection among members of ethnic minorities populations -- that do not speak English as their first language, who are a growing reservoir of TB infection in Ireland," he added.
Mr Broughan, a Dublin North East TD, told the Herald that it is "imperative" for Health Minister James Reilly to respond to the HSE's concerns.
"Quite clearly the hard-pressed HSE are very aware of the seriousness of this disease and Dr Kelleher's remarks make it clear the resources are not being put in.
"I will be raising this matter during the Dail term with the minister and I think it is quite imperative that he responds.
"This is obviously as serious disease and so many families have suffered from it. One only has to look at the great politician Noel Browne, whose whole family was struck by TB."