VICTORY FOR CANCER UNIT CAMPAIGNERS

Derry’s £56m cancer treatment centre is to be up and running within five years, Health Minister Edwin Poots has confirmed.

Yesterday’s announcement by Mr Poots that the shelved cross-border radiotherapy centre is to go ahead as planned was warmly welcomed in the North West by patients, politicians and health chiefs.

There were cheers of joy from cancer campaigners, The Pink Ladies, and medical professionals as they watched the DUP Minister announce his decision on television during a special Stormont address at lunchtime.

Mr Poots said that making a decision on the unit for Altnagelvin was his “first priority” after the project was controversially mothballed by his predecessor Michael McGimpsey in his last act as health minister in the previous Assembly. Mr McGimpsey said he believed it would be irresponsible to proceed with the project as revenue was not available to the department to run the facility.

However, Mr Poots has confirmed that money is available both to build and fully meet the running costs of the facility.

“I have now thoroughly reviewed all the relevant information and I have decided to make the necessary funding - both current and capital - available. 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,” he said.

He added that it is important the facility is completed as soon as possible as the cancer centre in Belfast City Hospital is expected to reach capacity by 2015.

“Delivery of this project is a high priority and it is anticipated that construction of the new centre will be completed by 2015 and the facility will be available in early 2016.”

Western Health Trust Chief Executive, Elaine Way, who, along with medical professionals, briefed the minister at Altnagelvin Hospital last week, said that she was absolutely delighted by the decision. “This has been an issue that has touched people in an extraordinary way and I want to express my gratitude to every single person who has given us their support.”

She added that the new unit will be a most important development in Altnagelvin Hospital’s history.

Noelle Duddy, of Action for Cancer Care North West, said Mr Poots’ announcement was testament to the power of everyone in the North West speaking with one voice.

She added that the service would enhance quality of living and reduce the pain of cancer patients by cutting out long journeys for treatment.