Tributes have been paid to Pearse Deery, the Derry cancer patient who convinced Health Minister Edwin Poots to reverse the decision to axe the planned radiotherapy unit at Altnagelvin, who has died.
Mr Poots said meeting Pearse at Altnagelvin last month helped convince him to reverse his predecessor Michael McGimpsey’s decision earlier this year to cut funding for the £57 million unit.
SDLP health spokesman Mark H Durkan, who was at primary school with Pearse, said future generations would benefit from the impact Pearse had on the minister.
“I was very saddened to hear the news about Pearse, that a young man like that had lost his life,” he said.
“It will have been some consolation to him and his family, small as it is, that he played a vital role in convincing the Minister to locate the radiotherapy unit at Altnagelvin.
“Regrettably it is too late for him but future generations will feel the benefit of not having to travel to Belfast for treatment.”
Junior Stormont Minister Martina Anderson said the whole city of Derry would remember Pearse with fondness and gratitude for the role he played in reversing the decision.
“The impact he made on Minister Edwin Poots cannot be overstated,” she said.
“People in Derry, Donegal and further afield will always have good reason to remember him and the influence he had on that decision.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this sad time.”
Mr Poots singled out Pearse in his speech to the Northern Ireland Assembly in which he reversed Mr McGimpsey’s decision in March to axe the unit.
“When visiting Altnagelvin I met health care professionals and senior management who made the case for the new unit,” he said.
“The most powerful advocates were not the consultants or nurses, but two patients Pearse and Edna who were receiving radiotherapy treatment in the Belfast City Hospital, by far, made the most powerful case for change.”
Taoiseach Enda Kenny says the radiotherapy unit will be a symbol of what can be achieved by cross-border co-operation. The Dublin Government has allocated 11 million euros to the project.
Speaking at his first North South Ministerial Council meeting, which was also attended by First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, Mr Kenny said it was a shining example of how money could be saved by cross-border co-operation.
“The unit at Altnagelvin is a shared facility which will reduce costs in both governments by providing a single radiotherapy treatment unit for people in both Derry and Donegal,” he said.
Mr Durkan said providing better health care was an obvious example of how cross-border co-operation could benefit people both in the north and the south.
“I have been saying for some time in committee that this kind of co-operation is the way forward,” he said.
“Altnagelvin is a prime example of how it can work and how it should work.
“But that is not as far as these ventures can or should go.
“Savings can be made and service can be improved across the board The Cystic Fibrosis unit in Belfast is another facility which is reaching capacity and Altnagelvin would be a suitable place for a new unit.”