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The woman who saved a cancer centre

Edna Pollock is the woman who finally convinced Health Minister Edwin Poots to give the go-ahead for a new £56m radiotherapy unit at Altnagelvin Hospital, it was revealed yesterday.

Mrs Pollock told the new minister she faced a seven-hour bus journey — even during the severe cold snap last Christmas and New Year — for treatment lasting just 15 minutes.

The 65-year-old mother-of-one, from Artigarvan outside Strabane, had to undergo two months of gruelling seven-hour round trips in December and January.

“The minister came into my room and had a short talk with me to find out how I felt about travelling up to Belfast, which I did in the winter time,” she said.

“I told him the truth. I was going up there for 15 minutes treatment, and you don’t feel too good with all the travelling.”

When the new chief visited the Londonderry hospital last week, only two of the 14 patients were well enough to speak to him.

“It brought home to me that those of us who enjoy good health should be thankful and show compassion to those who are less fortunate,” he told MLAs yesterday.

Announcing his decision, Mr Poots said the most powerful advocates for the new unit were not the healthcare professionals, consultants, senior management or nurses, but the two patients forced at present to travel.

Mrs Pollock said: “It is absolutely fantastic news, it’s a good day. I’m glad it is going ahead as it will help those coming behind me.”

The DUP minister also admitted it is a solution which straddles the border with the Republic, where the Irish government is contributing €19m (£16.5m) towards the project, which will be operational in five years. Questioned by Assembly Members, Mr Poots also gave an assurance that other parts of the health service will not be affected by his green light — just seven weeks after his predecessor, Ulster Unionist Michael McGimpsey, warned he did not have the money to staff and equip the centre.

‘It’s absolutely fantastic news, it’s a good day’

Mr Poots said the £56m capital costs have already been earmarked and the £14.5m recurrent cost amounted to less than 1% of his annual overall budget — but did not rule out having to ask Finance Minister Sammy Wilson for more money at a later stage.

Speaking from her hospital bed in the Sperrin suite at Altnagelvin Hospital yesterday, as she nears the end of her treatment for lymphoma, Mrs Pollock said her husband Wray had driven her to and from Belfast throughout her treatment.

“It was as nerve-racking for him as it was for me,” she said. “He has been fantastic, a tower of strength, and my family and friends have all helped me.

“I have always felt very positive, you have to be positive, and I’m coming towards the end of my treatment and I’ll be going home soon, hopefully, and getting on with life.”

Mrs Pollock paid tribute to the care she has received and said she is glad that staff as well as patients in the north west have been successful in securing the new centre.

Belfast Telegraph