Northern Ireland health minister agrees to fund new radiotherapy centre
Northern Ireland's new health minister, Edwin Poots, has announced that he will provide £56 million worth of funding for a new radiotherapy unit at Altnagelvin, Londonderry.
The minister followed through on his recent promise to make a decision on cancer services at Altnagelvin Hospital his first priority.
He confirmed: "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."
Mr Poots visited Altnagelvin on his second day in office and spoke with staff and patients at the hospital.
He told the Northern Ireland Assembly: "We must never be complacent about cancer. We must do all we can to respond to the challenge of this illness.
"Radiotherapy is one of the most effective means of beating cancer. Whilst the cancer centre at Belfast City hospital was designed to provide sufficient radiotherapy capacity for Northern Ireland up to 2015, we need to act now to ensure that the Altnagelvin unit proceeds as planned."
The minister also revealed that construction work on the unit should be completed by 2015, with the facility opening in early 2016.
The new unit will mean that 90 per cent of people in Northern Ireland will live within an hour of their nearest radiotherapy service.
Vicky Crichton, Cancer Research UK's public affairs manager, said: "This decision is good news for radiotherapy services in Northern Ireland. Half of all cancer patients should receive radiotherapy as part of their cancer treatment, and it helps cure 40 per cent of cases. Not only does radiotherapy cure cancer, and is cost effective, but we also know that there are cutting-edge radiotherapy treatments which simply aren't available to many patients across the UK.
"Alongside recent commitments to improve radiotherapy services in Belfast, today's decision will make a real difference for cancer patients across the region. It will ensure that the service in Northern Ireland has enough capacity for the future, and that patients in the north-west will not always have to travel to Belfast for their treatment."