THE government is considering the sale of the country's top cancer hospital, St Luke's in Dublin, as well as its extensive and lucrative surrounding lands, in a bid to finance the development of radiotherapy services announced last week by health minister Micheál Martin.

Department of Health sources confirmed this weekend that a decision to transfer radiotherapy services currently at St Luke's to a general hospital is likely to be taken following talks between the minister and the board of the cancer facility.

They said that the Department of Health had examined the sale of the 14-acre St Luke's site which is located in a prime area for development in Rathgar, south Dublin. It is estimated that the site could fetch around ?30m on the market.

As revealed exclusively by the Sunday Tribune last April, the long-awaited report on radiotherapy services for the government recommended that either other forms of cancer care, such as surgery and medical oncology, be moved to St Luke's or its radiation facilities be moved to a general hospital.

It is understood that the confidential memorandum for government on radiotherapy drawn up by the Department of Health suggested that such a move could take place within a five to seven-year period.

There were also indications this weekend that senior figures at St Luke's were accepting that services would not remain on the existing campus.

Sources close to the hospital said that the board of St Luke's would seek an assurance that a new radiotherapy facility on the campus of a general hospital would remain independently managed and that the existing "ethos" be maintained.

The board of St Luke's is also expected to tell Micheál Martin that it wants the proceeds from the sale of its Rathgar site to be used for the development of the proposed new radiotherapy facility on a general hospital campus.

It has also been suggested that the board of St Luke's might suggest to the minister that it could also run the additional radiotherapy service planned for development on the northside of Dublin.

As revealed by the Sunday Tribune in recent months, the expert group on radiotherapy did not make any recommendations on the location of this new facility. The Department of Health's chief medical officer, Dr Jim Kiely, is to look at this issue and will make a report to the government by next February.

At present, cancer services are fragmented around various hospitals on the northside of Dublin. The development of radiotherapy services in one could lead to a subsequent decision to concentrate all other forms of cancer care such as surgery, medical oncology and pathology in the same location.