Plans for a cross-border radiotherapy unit at Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry have been given the go-ahead by the North’s new health minister.
Edwin Poots said any delay would miss a valuable opportunity to improve services for cancer patients and said the unit would open in 2016.
In the final day before Stormont broke up for the election in March, the then health minister, Ulster Unionist Michael McGimpsey, caused outrage among the other parties when he said the government didn’t have the finances for the new cancer unit.
Both Sinn Féin and the DUP said they would overturn that decision after the election.
As things stand, peoplein Derry and Donegal have to make a 200-mile round trip to the cancer center in Belfast for treatment. The cross-border initiative is being partly funded by the Irish government, which is contributing £19 million.
“Following my consideration of the issues, I have decided that delivery of this is a high priority,” said Mr. Poots, who is a member of the DUP.
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“Cancer is not something we can be complacent about. Everyone in this chamber will know someone, either a family member, a friend or indeed themselves, who has been affected by cancer.”
About 8,500 new cases of cancer are diagnosed each year in Northern Ireland. With an ageing population this number is likely to increase. By the age of 75, one in three of us will have cancer,” he said.
Mr. Poots spent his first week in office meeting patients and medical staff at both Altnagelvin and at the Cancer Center in Belfast.
Speaking to the Assembly he said: “The most powerful advocates were not the consultants or nurses, but two patients who were receiving radiotherapy treatment in the Belfast City Hospital, by far made the most powerful case for change.
“One lady explained how on a cold December day it took seven hours to travel to and from Belfast for ten minutes treatment. Clearly, such journeys are not conducive to the recovery process.”