Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

New snub in cancer services battle

Minister refuses to see council members

Campaigners battling to save vital cancer services from the axe have been snubbed for the second time by a Government minister who has refused to meet Derry City Council to discuss the issue.

A delegation of politicians and community members from Londonderry is now to travel to Stormont to hand deliver a message to current Health Minister Michael McGimpsey after he refused to meet councillors over the potential removal of life-saving cancer detection services from the city.

The move comes after a new report shows that despite cancer survival rates increasing in Northern Ireland, the situation in the North West is still causing serious concern, with people from the region most likely to succumb to certain types of the disease.

Derry City Council wrote to Mr McGimpsey in August asking him to discuss the proposals in the consultation document, The Future of Pathology Services in Northern Ireland, which recommends centralising some services to Belfast.

But a reply shown to councillors yesterday ruled out a meeting. The suggestion to move services came despite the opening of a multi-million pound pathology lab at Altnagelvin Hospital in March.

The North West Telegraph has spearheaded the Save Our Services campaign, which is calling on the Government to keep the services at Altnagelvin.

Our campaign has been backed by a top cancer consultant, cancer survivors and politicians from across the North West.

At a meeting of the council's regional services committee yesterday, SDLP councillor Mark H Durkan called for more action after councillors heard the minister had rejected a call to meet them.

It was the second snub this year. In March, previous Health Minister Paul Goggins was accused of snubbing the council after he ruled out an urgent meeting with councillors.

Yesterday, councillors were also angry at Mr McGimpsey's stance.

Mr Durkan told the councillors yesterday: "I would like to express my disappointment that the health minister will not meet us in person and propose that in light of the recent report which showed cancer survival rates are still lagging way behind in Derry and the North West, we write an addition to the first letter, indicating the need to keep pathology services in the North West."

Sinn Fein councillor Billy Page additionally proposed delivering the letter in person as part of a delegation.

"We should go up and hand the letter in as a protest," he said.

"If we lose these services, we lose them forever. We fought long and hard to maintain services in this city, and we need to stand together."

However, following discussions, DUP Mayor Drew Thompson agreed to assemble members of the city's Civic Regeneration Forum, including Foyle MP Mark Durkan, to travel to Stormont.

Regional services committee chairman Martin Reilly of the SDLP also agreed that cancer support groups should be informed of the committee's intentions.

Last week The Northern Ireland Cancer Registry (NICR) revealed that Derry has significantly more cases of cancer than the Northern Ireland average. The statistics revealed that diagnoses of lung and bowel cancer were particularly high in the city.

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