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Derry £56m cancer unit given go-ahead by Poots


DUP MLA Edwin Poots

DUP MLA Edwin Poots

DUP MLA Edwin Poots

A new £56 million cancer treatment unit in Londonderry has been given the go-ahead just two months after the project was controversially shelved.

DUP Health Minister Edwin Poots reversed the decision made by his Ulster Unionist predecessor Michael McGimpsey in March.

Mr McGimpsey claimed he did not have the cash to fund the radiotherapy facility at Altnagelvin hospital, particularly the money needed to train specialists to staff it ahead of its anticipated opening in five years' time.

At the time he also expressed concerns that the incoming Irish Government may not be able to meet the state's multi-million pledge to part fund the centre, which would offer care to patients across the border in Donegal.

But making his first major announcement in office, Mr Poots told the Assembly that he was releasing the £56 million needed to build the unit and £14.5 million for start up costs, including the bill for staff training.

He also committed to providing an extra £9 million for annual operating costs, bringing the provisional amount available to run the centre to around £22/23 million a year.

He said the authorities in Dublin had given "firm assurances" that they will honour their 19 million euro (£16.4 million) funding commitment.

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"Making a decision on the proposed radiotherapy unit at Altnagelvin was my first priority as Health Minister," he said.

"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. This amounts to £56 million being made available to build the unit and an estimated additional £9 million being made available over current service provision for running costs."

Mr McGimpsey's decision caused anger in the north west with patients insisting it was unacceptable that they had to travel so far - to Belfast City Hospital - for treatment.

Mr Poots, who visited the hospital on his second day in office earlier this month, said: "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 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."

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