Cancer patients have been left reeling after Health Minister Michael McGimpsey announced he does not have enough money to fund a promised new radiotherapy centre in Londonderry.
The shock move came as Mr McGimpsey revealed which capital projects will go ahead over the next four years at Stormont yesterday.
But he is now embroiled in another political storm as he confirmed he cannot give the green light to the much-needed cancer treatment centre at Altnagelvin Hospital.
Jim Wells, chair of the Stormont health committee, accused Mr McGimpsey of “punishing people for his utter failure to tackle waste and inefficiencies” in the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS).
Foyle Sinn Fein MLA Martina Anderson branded the decision “political”, which demonstrated that Mr McGimpsey is “the most incompetent minister in the Executive”.
The minister hit back at his critics and said he was the one who made tough choices when faced with a budget which falls far below the amount of money needed to deliver all capital projects.
The DHSSPS asked for £1.8bn and was given £851m.
With £250m committed to projects already under way and £400m required for maintenance and the replacement of critical clinical equipment and emergency vehicles, the minister has just £200m available for other projects. He said: “This was no easy task, but when health is continually starved of the funding it needs then very difficult decisions have to be made.
“Decisions over whether to fund care for elderly people in their homes, or cut thousands of jobs or increase waiting times or build a new hospital.
“These are choices which have to be made because the health and social care service is broke.”
Mr McGimpsey also said the new health minister in the Republic has not given any firm commitment regarding their financial contribution to the radiotherapy centre.
“I have rung him four times but have not been able to speak to him, and he has not come back to me,” he said.
Failure to build the new radiotherapy centre means cancer patients in the north west will have to continue to make 200-mile trips several times a week for radiotherapy treatment.
It could also have disastrous consequences for cancer services across Northern Ireland as the radiotherapy centre at Belfast City Hospital is due to reach capacity within five years.
Acknowledging the threat to cancer care, Mr McGimpsey has instructed the Health & Social Care Board to install two new radiotherapy machines at Belfast City Hospital over the next two years.
The regional Children’s Hospital at the Royal and a number of health care centres at locations around Northern Ireland — designed to increase treatments and care in the community and reduce the burden on hospitals — are other high-profile casualties.
Some of the projects to go ahead will include the replacement of the ward block at the Ulster Hospital (costing about £130m); the local hospital at Omagh will be enhanced (costing in excess of £100m), and an acute psychiatric facility at Belfast City Hospital will be developed (costing £24m).
A&E department and ward accommodation at Antrim Area Hospital costing £13m — a review of the C Difficile outbreak in the Northern Trust released this week said this work must be completed as soon as possible to ensure patient safety.
Operating theatres at Craigavon Area Hospital costing £11m.
New health and care centres in Ballymena and Banbridge costing £21m and £15m respectively.
Mr McGimpsey has also ordered a review of the health and social care service which is to be headed up by William McKee, former chief executive of the Belfast Trust, and will examine how best to provide services with the available resources.