Radiotherapy centre on the way - but no money to run it, says MLA

Derry’s planned satellite radiotherapy centre may be in jeopardy after it was revealed that there’s no money available to run it.

Health Minister Michael McGimpsey has confirmed that funding is available in the Budget to build the centre, with the help of cash pledged by the Department of Finance in the Republic of Ireland.

Finance Minister Sammy Wilson also promised recently that a cancer treatment centre at Altnagelvin hospital was one capital project which would go ahead.

However, Mr McGimpsey told yesterday’s meeting of Stormont’s Health Committee that he “very much regrets” that sufficient funding to run the facility is not available in the budget.

He stated in a document circulated to committee members: “On the basis of the proposed allocation it would not be possible to provide revenue funding for the satellite radiotherapy unit at Altnagelvin.”

However, the minister added that he remained totally committed to the project.

Derry’s only Health Committee member, Pól Callaghan, told the meeting that the people of Derry will see the announcement as an “accountancy trick” between the Departments for Health and Finance to “do down” cancer patients in the North West.

Speaking to the ‘Journal’ last night, Mr Callaghan said the cost of the centre being shelved or abandoned was “too great” for people suffering from cancer and their familes.

He added: “This news will frustrate and anger people right across the North West who have been given an expectation that a much needed Radiotherapy Centre will be built at Altnagelvin.

“Not least, this is a major cross border project which has attracted the support of the Irish Government to help pay for its construction. Any delay or abandonement of the project would presumably forfeit that financial help.

“The Derry public will find it outrageous that this project is possibly earmarked not to proceed on the basis that there may not be money available to run it in four or five years time even though the money is available to build it now.”

In April 2008, Mr McGimpsey announced that the centre would be in place in Derry by 2015, ensuring that 90% of the local population is within one hour commuting distance of radiotherapy.