A CONTROVERSIAL cross-Border cancer radiotherapy centre based in Derry is to go ahead after a policy switch announced by the Stormont health minister.
Edwin Poots told the Northern Assembly yesterday he was reversing an earlier decision not to proceed with the £65 million (€74.6 million) centre which is to be supported by the Irish Government to the tune of €19 million.
Former health minister Michael McGimpsey told a closing session of the outgoing Assembly in March he could not proceed with the investment at Altnagelvin hospital in Derry on account of budgetary problems.
This prompted a letter of concern from Minister for Health Dr James Reilly, who is keen for the facility to proceed.
However, Mr Poots said yesterday he would find the necessary funds and confirmed the Government remained committed to the project, as originally conceived, which will offer radiotherapy services to cancer sufferers across the northwest.
“Making a decision on the proposed radiotherapy unit at Altnagelvin was my first priority as health minister,” Mr Poots 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.
He added: “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.”
Earlier he told the Assembly: “Upon my appointment, I began to consider all aspects of this proposal. On my second day, I visited Altnagelvin to hear from staff and patients. This gave me a clearer understanding of the very real and human impact of this decision.
“We must never be complacent about cancer. We must do all we can to respond to the challenge of this illness,” Mr Potts said.
“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.”
The planned centre is due to be completed in 2016.
The Minister has been lobbied strongly by campaigners from Derry and the surrounding area styling themselves the Pink Ladies.
On completion of the investment some 90 per cent of cancer sufferers in Northern Ireland and Co Donegal will be within an hour of a radiotherapy service.
The decision was welcomed by politicians on both sides of the Border, including Fianna Fáil Donegal North East TD Charlie McConalogue.
“It is only fair that patients in Donegal have access to cancer treatment services within a reasonable distance from their homes,” Mr McConalogue said.