Belfast Telegraph

Training begins for team who will staff £50m cancer centre serving both sides of border

By Brendan McDaid

Training begins today for members of the 220-strong team who will operate the pioneering new £50m cross-border radiotherapy unit in Londonderry.

The unit will provide access to radiotherapy services to over a half-a-million people living on both sides of the border.

The first images of the project were unveiled to the public at Altnagelvin Hospital last night.

Among the new jobs being created are posts for consultant oncologists, radiologists, nursing positions, medical physics scientists, pharmacists and administrative staff.

It will cater for 417,000 people from Derry, Strabane, Limavady, Omagh, Fermanagh, Coleraine, Moyle, Ballymoney and a further 110,000 people from north to mid Donegal. The unit will be located beside the existing Sperrin Suite cancer unit at the Derry hospital.

Western Health and Social Services Trust chiefs said the training of staff has begun now to ensure a “competent and experienced workforce” is in place at the unit in time for the opening in mid-2016.

Speaking at the event last night, chairman of the trust, Gerard Guckian, said: “It is great to see the radiotherapy unit progressing well. The public are now seeing images of the unit for the first time and this is exciting for all involved.

“To date, the design team and new unit manager have been appointed and the design of the building and enabling works are under way.”

He continued: “This is a significant development for the people in the north west and for the Western Trust.

“This unit will meet the needs of the north west population and add to the NI radiotherapy capacity overall when it opens in 2016.”

Dr David Stewart, consultant clinical oncologist and clinical adviser for the project, said: “The radiotherapy unit will provide a patient-centred, holistic service for cancer patients at Altnagelvin Hospital.

“Cancer treatment will be provided in accordance with the existing Northern Ireland Cancer Network (NICaN) patient pathways. Radiotherapy treatment, both single and combination radio/ chemotherapy for curative and palliative purposes, for all but the most complex of tumours, will be delivered at Altnagelvin Hospital.”

The service will be managed by the Western Trust and is funded by the Department of Health Social Services and Public Safety in Northern Ireland and the Department of Health in the Republic of Ireland.

Commenting on the significance of the new unit for Donegal patients, Dr Mary Hynes, of the National Cancer Control Programme, said: “We are delighted to be working closely with our colleagues in the Western Health and Social Care Trust to expand the range of cancer services we deliver to our patients in Donegal. It means that for first time ever Donegal patients will access radiotherapy within the north west.”

Further public information sessions will be rolled out in the catchment area covered.

Information on these additional sessions will be available online at www.westerntrust.hscni.net.

Background

The facility will initially contain three linear accelerators — which deliver high-energy X-rays to tumours — in three treatment chambers, plus one spare chamber. There will also be an X-ray treatment suite; a CT simulator for treatment planning and a CT scanner to provide diagnostic images of inside patients’ body. An inpatient ward and an Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanner for detailed internal body pictures and treatment planning will be installed. Existing chemotherapy services will also be remodelled.



Efforts of survivors prompted ministerial U-turn

By Brendan McDaid

Londonderry's new radiotherapy unit was only secured after a hard-fought campaign led by cancer survivors.

The grassroots movement was sparked by the shock announcement in March 2011 by then-Health Minister Michael McGimpsey that the project was being shelved.

Mass protests and petitions were organised across the north west and at Stormont, with the Pink Ladies breast cancer survivors’ group and Donegal cancer survivor groups among the most vocal.

They were backed by medical staff, politicians, trade unions and wider community.

Within days of taking on the health portfolio in May 2011, newly-installed Minister Edwin Poots overturned his predecessor’s decision and gave the green light for the project.

He said that the personal testimonies of patients who had been forced to travel hundreds of miles for cancer treatment had been instrumental in his decision.

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