Disappointment but ‘no surprise’ in Donegal at shelving of Altnagelvin radiotheraphy unit

News that the plans for a satellite radiotherapy unit at Altnagelvin Hospital have been shelved has been greeted with disappointment but not surprise in Donegal.

News that the plans for a satellite radiotherapy unit at Altnagelvin Hospital have been shelved has been greeted with disappointment but not surprise in Donegal.

Noelle Duddy,of Co-Operating for Cancer Care North West (CCCNW) told the Democrat: “We are very disappointed. We were hoping and expecting that, if there was going to be an announcement from Mr McGimpsey that it would have been an announcement that it was going ahead.

“However CCCNW has always understood that he might not make the announcement this side of the Assembly elections. We are optimistic that the new Assembly and the new Minister for Health will sign off on the radiotherapy unit as soon as they are in post.

“The satellite radiotherapy unit at Altnagelvin is a cross-border venuture - the populations on both sides of the border co-dependent so as to ensure that critical mass is achieved to safely provide this service.

“Just yesterday I received an e-mail from Minister of State, Dinny McGinley, who met with Mr Reilly on our behalf regarding his continued support for the unit. He has pledged his continued support and will raise the issue when he meets with Mr McGimpsey.

Betty Holmes, of Donegal Action for Cancer Care and an independent candidate in the last general election, told the Democrat yesterday that the postponement “comes as absolutely no surprise.”

She added: “We at DACC have been saying for some time that it wasn’t going to happen - the money’s not there. The business plan that was to have been signed off on two years ago was never signed off on. Michael McGimpsey has been saying for a long time that they don’t have the money to do it. He couldn’t have been any clearer.

“The way forward is to keep the issues on the table. While we at DACC would have welcomed a unit in Derry, as it would have been nearer to Donegal than Dublin or Galway, we have always wanted full cancer care services at Letterkenny General Hospital. Our view is that cancer patients deserve to be treated as close to their homes as possible.

“We were told by a very senior person in 2008 that the only real reason that Letterkenny General Hospital isn’t getting a radiotherapy unit is lack of political will. We see the shelving of the plans for Derry as an opportunity to revisit the whole issue of cancer care provision in Letterkenny.”

Mr McGimpsey said he was committed to the future development of the unit at Altnagelvin but that his current budget for capital spending leaves him £500m short of what would be needed for the project.

“These are choices which have to be made because the health and social care service is broke. These are choices which can only cause pain and anxiety to the public,” he told the Assembly yesterday.

He undertook to provide two new radiotherapy machines at Belfast City Hospital over the next two years. Many patients from Donegal attended Belfast City Hospital for cancer treatment.