More than 2,000 doctors attended a meeting last week in Forli in the Marche region to discuss "Palliative Care" - the alleviation of pain - a medical speciality which has, until now, been little talked about in Italy. Research shows that, when it comes to pain relief, Italy has one of the worst records in Europe, with only 206 specialist centres, more than 90 per cent of them in the north of the country.

Girolamo Sirchia, the Italian minister for health has continued the workof his predecessor, Umberto Veronese, one of the world's top cancer specialists, to simplify the prescribing of opiates for the terminally ill and for hospital patients who have undergone serious surgery, but the Italians are still using these pain relieving drugs 12 times less than the Germans and the French and 110 times less than the Danes.