Donegal Cancer Patients Get Altnagelvin Boost

A vital decision on health provision for cancer patients in the North West of Ireland has been made.

The North's Health Minister Edwin Poots today announced that he would provide multi-million pound funding to allow a new radiotherapy centre at Altnagelvin, Londonderry to be built after all - with huge benefits for Co Donegal patients who will also be able to use the facilities.

Mr Poots has already confirmed that the authorities in the Republic of Ireland have given firm assurances that they will fully fund their share of the costs.

The DUP's Mr Poots said: "Making a decision on the proposed radiotherapy unit at Altnagelvin was my first priority as Health Minister. It was vital that I took the time to look at all the evidence properly to reach the right decision for the right reasons.

"I have now thoroughly reviewed all the relevant information and I have decided to make the necessary funding - both current and capital - available," he said.

Adding a substantial boost for the beleaguered building trade he continued: "This amounts to £56m being made available to build the unit and an estimated additional £9m being made available over current service provision for running costs."

Earlier he told the Stormont Assembly: "Upon my appointment, I began to consider all aspects of this proposal.

"On my second day, I visited Altnagelvin to hear from staff and patients. This gave me a clearer understanding of the very real and human impact of this decision.

"We must never be complacent about cancer. We must do all we can to respond to the challenge of this illness. And it is a challenge both in terms of the resources required to combat it and in terms of the sheer number of people affected.

"Radiotherapy is one of the most effective means of beating cancer. Whilst the cancer centre at Belfast City hospital was designed to provide sufficient radiotherapy capacity for Northern Ireland up to 2015, we need to act now to ensure that the Altnagelvin Unit proceeds as planned.

"Delivery of this project is a high priority and it is anticipated that construction of the new centre will be completed by 2015 and the facility will be available in early 2016."

Mr Poots told the Assembly that there are 8,500 new cases of cancer are diagnosed each year in Northern Ireland but with an ageing population, this number is likely to increase.

He added: "The establishment of this new facility in Londonderry will mean that 90% of patients in Northern Ireland will be within one hour of a radiotherapy service. This will greatly ease the burden of travel on ill and frail patients."

The start up costs for this project, in advance of opening the facility, are some £14.5m including the costs of training.

Almost at once, the Sinn Fein Junior Minister Martina Anderson has welcomed the decision: "I welcome the fact that the Minister has arrived at the correct decision and thank him for doing it so quickly after only taking office last week.

"When the previous Health Minister, Michael McGimpsey announced that this project would not go ahead deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness immediately stood up and guaranteed that he would ensure that it would happen.

"Other Ministers including the First Minister Peter Robinson also pledged to have the decision overturned at the earliest opportunity and today we have seem those pledges honoured.

"This unit will have huge benefit to people suffering from cancer not only in Derry but right across the North West region.

"Cancer sufferers deserve the very best of care and this new unit will mean that that care will be available at Altnagelvin but more significantly it will mean that the travel time for patients will be cut significantly.

"This will have a great benefit to the sufferers and their families as they will not have to travel to Belfast for a few minutes treatment at a time when they are extremely ill," she concluded.

Alliance Health Spokesperson Kieran McCarthy MLA has welcomed the announcement by Health Minister Edwin Poots that the building of the proposed radiotherapy unit at Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry will go ahead. Kieran McCarthy said it’s absolutely vital that we deliver more North-South sharing of health services to make the most of our resources.

The Alliance's Kieran McCarthy MLA also said: "This is very welcome news and I am extremely pleased that plans for the radiotherapy centre have been given the go ahead.

"The region needs this facility and this is the right decision. I am also very pleased to see this progress on North-South sharing of services. Cross-border co-operation is vital to help provide practical solutions and help us make the most of our resources.

"This excellent news today points the way for the future and it is absolutely vital that there is strong North-South co-operation to help deliver the best possible services and the best value for money. I strongly advocate more sharing of services and we need to be radical to help address the health needs of our population in the years ahead," he said.


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