Cancer campaigners and politicians have welcomed yesterday’s decision by Edwin Poots, MLA, minister for health, social services and public safety in the north, to proceed with plans for a radiotherapy unit at Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry.
Minister Poots reversed a decision made by his predecessor, former minister, Michael McGimpsey, who said the government could not afford the project.
But Minister Poots called the radiotherapy unit a priority.
“Following my consideration of the issues, I have decided that delivery of this project is a high priority and I have confirmed that I will make the necessary funding -- both current and capital -- available,” Minister Poots said yesterday. “To delay or fail would miss a valuable opportunity to improve service provision for future cancer patients.”
The minister said that he expected construction of the new facility to be completed in 2015, with the unit opening in mid 2016.
“The location of the new centre in the north-west also provides the opportunity for genuine, sustainable and meaningful cross-border co-operation,” the minister said. “It has the potential to deliver real mutual benefits to both jurisdictions.” He said the Irish government has given firm assurances that they will fully fund their share of the costs.
Noelle Duddy, spokesperson for the Donegal campaigning group Co-operating for Cancer Care North-West, said about 360 new patients from Donegal will be expected to use the new centre each year.
“Today is a fine example of cross-border co-operation working well for cancer patients on either side of the border,” she said. “When this is operational a majority of cancer patients in the north-west will be able to receive radiotherapy nearer to home.”
Ms. Duddy said the group has been lobbying for the unit for more than six years and she wanted to thank committee members for their work in keeping cancer services high on the agenda on both sides of the border.
Calling the campaign “a journey of highs and lows”, she said, “We have always remained optimistic and confident that this project would be approved, as it was a top priority not just for both departments of health but for political parties on both sides of border.”
Charlie McConalogue, Fianna Fáil TD, said the minister’s announcement “will come as a major relief” to patients north and south of the border.
“There was extreme concern when Minister Poots’ predecessor pulled financial support from this crucial development two months ago, claiming the funding was not available,” Deputy McConalogue said. “That was despite the Republic’s ongoing commitment to fulfilling its side of the bargain regardless of the strain on the public finances.” The project requires a firm commitment from both Dublin and Belfast, he said.
Fianna Fáil Sen. Brian Ó Domhnaill also welcomed the news, saying he was pleased that Minister Poots “had the good sense to overturn the disastrous decision made by his predecessor in March”.
Sen. Ó Domhnaill called the unit “key to the development of accessible cancer services in the north-west”. Noting that an estimated third of patients in the new unit will be from Donegal and the surrounding area, he said, “There has always been a strong commitment from the department of health in Dublin to contributing 19 million euro to the project.
“I am delighted that Stormont’s new health minister seems similarly committed,” Sen. Ó Domhnaill said.