18/05/2011

Derry Cancer Unit 'In The Balance'

Cancer patients in Londonderry who are facing a 200-mile round trip to a regional cancer centre in Belfast for treatment are hoping that a change at Stormont will bring them good news.

Last night, the Chairman of the Western Health Trust has said he remains confident that a proposed radiotherapy unit at Altnagelvin Hospital in Londonderry will be given the go ahead.

Gerard Guckian was speaking after the newly installed Health Minister Edwin Poots visited the hospital and again repeated that he could not give a firm commitment to the project.

However, Mr Guckian said he believes the value of such a facility will be recognised.

"We are confident it will stand on its own merits," he told BBC NI.

"Given that the capacity in Northern Ireland will run out in 2016 and also the incentive of treating Donegal patients."

However, the DUP's Edwin Poots said it was a top priority but he wanted to study the business case before taking a final decision.

That will be a huge disappointment as the centre was put on hold in March after the previous Health Minister, the Ulster Unionist's Michael McGimpsey, said he did not have enough money in his budget to run it.

"It's top of my in-tray. What I can't do is give a cast-iron guarantee without having seen all the documentation and papers around this issue," said Mr Poots.

But, there is top level support for the centre to get the green light as, in March, the Stormont First Minister, Peter Robinson announced his commitment to a new radiotherapy unit at Altnagelvin Hospital.
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His statement followed the former Health Minister Michael McGimpsey's announcement that the unit would not be built because funding was insufficient.

Mr McGimpsey's comments caused a backlash and harsh criticism from campaigners, who claimed the decision could put lives at risk at Altnagelvin, in Londonderry (pictured).

Mr Robinson commented before the Assembly elections: "We are going to proceed with the Altnagelvin extension for cancer care and that's the end of the matter.

"The Executive is able to take this decision and the SDLP, Sinn Fein, and the DUP have now all said that they will go ahead with this project."

In The Balance

But, yesterday, the Health Minister visited Altnagelvin Hospital in Londonderry to view the facilities and meet with staff and patients at first hand and continued to 'hedge his bets'

Speaking during his first visit as Health Minister, Mr Poots said: "I welcome the opportunity to visit the facilities and among the issues I will discuss with staff will be the proposed Radiotherapy Unit which has been of great interest over the last few weeks and months.

"I am determined firstly to listen and then to gather all the information and facts, look at the numbers, look at the paperwork and from there I will make an informed decision.

"Whatever that decision will be, I must ensure that we live within our means and that the people of Northern Ireland will have access to the best quality health care possible."

The Minister continued: "I would like to pay tribute to all the nurses and doctors here who work tirelessly to provide quality care to the local community. The value of your work cannot be underestimated."

See: Robinson Supports Derry Cancer Unit Plan

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