Cancer centre to get green light

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Derry’s planned cancer treatment centre is expected to be finally given the green light on Monday.

Health Minister Edwin Poots, who indicated to the ‘Journal’ this week that he’ll make a “favourable” decision on the project, is expected to rubber stamp proposal in his first ministerial statement to the Assembly.

Health sources have suggested that a positive announcement on the radiotherapy centre for Altnagelvin is imminent.

Gerard Guckian, Chairman of the Western Health Trust, said he was “confident” that the satellite facility will get the go ahead.

Local MLA Pat Ramsey said he was in no doubt that Mr Poots’ first address to the Chamber will be “good news” for the North West.

“I would have every confidence that Mr Poots will bring about a very good news story for Northern Ireland in terms of the new cancer centre in Derry. I would be absolutely shocked if he doesn’t. In fact anything less would be atrocious - it’s the very least we can expect,” he said.

During a visit to Altnagelvin Hospital this week, the Minister stopped short of making a commitment on giving the proposed radiotherapy centre the green light. However, the DUP politician said a decision was imminent on the cross border project, which was controversially mothballed by the previous health minister, UUP MLA Michael McGimpsey.

Mr Poots said that although he could not give a guarantee giving the centre the go ahead, he was “looking at it with a mind to be favourable”.

“I’m very sympathetic to the issue that people should not have to travel long distances to receive radiotherapy as it doesn’t aid recovery from cancer,” he added.

The cancer centre was certainly his top priority in his first week in the job, having visited Altnagelvin Hospital on Tuesday, studied the business case for new centre and taken a tour of the Belfast’s cancer treatment centre yesterday morning to gauge the capacity of the facility.

He said yesterday: “The radiotherapy centre is at the head of my in tray. I will make the right decision for the right reasons. To do this I must consider all the evidence. The decision will be made very soon but it will be based on thorough examination and careful consideration of all the facts. This is the responsible course of action,” he said.

Speaking in Derry on Tuesday - his first full day as Health Minister, Mr Poots said he would be crunching the numbers involved in the building and running of a new centre.

“The previous minister made the decision to not go ahead with it, I want to look at the issues and the current funding stream. The main issue raised by the previous minister was the costs of running this unit. Ultimately we need to ensure that we live up to the budget allocated to us.

“I just got the outline business case today and I’m going through that, and I have already gone through a report on it. I’ve been in office just 24 hours at this point and I don’t believe it is good ministerial policy to make a decision without looking at the details of the case. In so far as the money is available - the capital funding is available while there is a requirement for £14.5m in the year before it opens and £9m a year to run it thereafter.

“The Southern Government will pay for all of the people who come from the Republic of Ireland and that is not an issue - their funding is on the table. It up to myself to identify where the additional resource of £9m comes from,” he added.

Gerard Guckian, Chairman of the Western Health Trust, said he was confident of a favourable decision, adding that he believes the value of such a facility will be recognised. “We are confident it will stand on its own merits. Given that the capacity in Northern Ireland will run out in 2016 and also the incentive of treating Donegal patients.”

Meanwhile, Derry’s newly appointed Junior Minister at OFMDFM, Martina Anderson, said she will be raising the matter with Mr Poots and her Executive colleagues in coming days.

“I’ll use every opportunity to ensure that it is built and staffed,” she said ahead of yesterday’s first meeting of the NI Executive in the new term.