Derry’s politicians have made a united call to the health minister, urging him to deliver on his commitment to build and operate the regional cancer centre at Altnagelvin hospital.
The six MLAs from the Foyle constituency put aside party-political differences to issue the joint demand to Michael McGimpsey following his announcement earlier this week that while funding is in place to build the satellite radiotherapy unit, there may not be enough money to staff it.
The doubt over the ability to meet the staffing and operating costs of the facility arose during a discussion of the department of health’s draft budget.
The minister’s comments sparked anger across the north west, particularly among cancer patients and cancer support groups.
The state-of-the-art cancer centre had been due to open in 2015 but delays have meant the opening date is now likely to be 2016.
The MLAs from the SDLP, Sinn Féin, and the DUP have said that the cancer centre, which will treat patients from both sides of the border, is “desperately needed”.
The joint statement says; “The case for this facility has been well-made. The funds to deliver it have been identified by both administrations on the island and the commitment to deliver it must be honoured.
“It is a desperately needed facility which will help alleviate some of the suffering endured by cancer patients throughout the north west who currently have to endure debilitating journeys to either Belfast or Dublin for life-saving treatment.”
The cross-party statement also acknowledges the concern among cancer patients and their families following the minister’s remarks.
“Radiotherapy capacity is needed at Altnagelvin Hospital. That is a fact which is recognised by everyone, including Minister McGimpsey, who has repeatedly stated that it is a priority for his department.
“We share the concerns of cancer patients, their families and the wider public in the North West at recent comments by Minister McGimpsey in which he warned that he may not be able to meet the cost of running a radiotherapy centre at Altnagelvin,” it says.
In a direct call to Mr McGimpsey, the six Assembly members say; “We are calling on the Minister to review that position.
“He has made previous commitments to provide radiotherapy services at Altnagelvin and he now needs to deliver on them.”
The move comes ahead of a public meeting in the Gasyard Centre on Monday night to give members of the public an opportunity to air their views on the future of the cancer centre.
The joint statement has been endorsed by all six Foyle MLAs; Martina Anderson (Sinn Féin), Mary Bradley (SDLP), Pól Callaghan (SDLP), William Hay (DUP), Raymond McCartney (Sinn Féin), and Pat Ramsey (SDLP).